Investigation Uncovers Inaccuracies in Bloomberg Article
On Dec. 15, 2011, Bloomberg News published an article entitled, “Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton” that alleged Victoria’s Secret purchased cotton from farms that utilize children workers forced into labor. This report disputes the Fairtrade certification that Victoria’s Secret relies on, and it questions the oversight and training of the program by the National Union of Cotton Producers of Burkina Faso (UNPCB).
Shocked by these allegations, Limited Brands, parent company of Victoria’s Secret, immediately launched an investigation because these allegations described behavior that is contrary to our company’s values and the code of labor and sourcing standards that we require all of our suppliers to meet. These standards expressly prohibit illegal child labor and forced labor. Accordingly, all cotton that we purchase from Burkina Faso is Fairtrade-certified organic, which provides measures to prevent use of child labor.
Since the story was published, a third-party investigation commissioned by Limited Brands was conducted and has uncovered substantial factual inaccuracies, most notably:
- The “young girl” who was the centerpiece of the article, Clarisse Kambire, is 21 years old – not 13 years old,as reported by Bloomberg News.
- Clarisse does not live nor work on a registered organic cotton farm in Burkina Faso. Rather, she works on a vegetable farm.
- Victorien Kamboule, who was reported to be an organic cotton farmer, does not raise cotton, according to records of the UNPCB which registers all cotton farms in Burkina Faso, as well as ECOCERT, a French certification organization that actively inspects and monitors organic agricultural production, including organic cotton from Burkina Faso. Victorien grows vegetables.
The allegations raised by Bloomberg News are very serious. In addition to our findings, follow-up investigations by the UNPCB, the government of Burkina Faso and Fairtrade International also showed that there were substantive inaccuracies in the Bloomberg article. Additionally, while Bloomberg referenced an alleged "preliminary investigation" of Limited Brands by the Department of Homeland Security, there is no indication that this is factual. Limited Brands has never been notified, either formally or informally, that they or any of their affiliated companies or brands are the target or subject of any investigation by US government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, pertaining to child labor in Burkina Faso.
Nonetheless, Limited Brands is committed to a continuation of its efforts to actively oppose and combat child labor. Fairtrade International has informed us that they are committed to increasing the capacity of Fairtrade organic cotton farmers in Burkina Faso in addressing and preventing child labor and will support them to build robust, evidence-based community systems to respond to and prevent child labor violations. Many Burkina Faso citizens depend on the sale of cotton, almost exclusively, for their livelihoods.
We are committed to helping improve the lives of women and children in this poverty-stricken country by continuing to purchase Fairtrade-certified organic cotton from Burkina Faso through this pilot program. We will remain steadfast in supporting the UNPCB as they enhance the processes to ensure that illegal child labor is not used in the organic cotton farms. We are always looking to improve and will continue to work with all of the entities involved and other experts to ensure we have the best possible compliance and verification procedures in place.
Additional information from the investigations can be found here.
Our Commitment to improve the lives of women and children of Burkina Faso
In 2007, we established a pilot program to purchase Fairtrade-certified organic cotton from primarily women farmers in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa that struggles with endemic poverty. We were committed to this initiative because of its potential to generate life-changing opportunities for some of the world’s poorest women.
Background on the Burkina Faso Program
This program, organized by the National Federation of Cotton Producers of Burkina Faso (UNPCB), was created to innovatively:
- Promote women’s financial empowerment by providing them with an independent source of income;
- Promote environmentally friendly farming (including rain-fed, pesticide-free) methods; and
- Enable more children to attend school.
To meet these goals:
- Farmers were trained by UNPCB and Fairtrade on how to produce organic, rather than conventional, cotton which could be sold at a premium price. The training addressed Fairtrade standards for labor and production, which include the prohibition of child labor.
- The UNPCB sought certification from Flo-Cert, the best-in-class Fairtrade certification body.
- We have purchased this Fairtrade-certified organic cotton since 2007. The premium prices paid by our company for the certified organic cotton has paid for school books and 32 water wells in poor farming villages, 20 of which are already in operation. Water scarcity is a large problem for this country that borders the Sahara Desert.
- Because of the proximity and accessibility to these water wells, girls (who have been traditionally responsible for bringing water for their families) now can attend school rather than spending hours a day fetching water from miles away from their homes.