Whatever precious sexual norms Victoria's Secret's skimpy underwear violates doesn't compare to the fact that the lingerie maker uses cotton picked by child laborers in Burkina Faso. Bloomberg Markets' Cam Simpson reports today on children as young as 10 are made to work cotton fields in the West African country under the country's supposedly fair-trade cotton program, meant to keep kids off the fields in Burkina Faso where child labor is already known to be "endemic." But it doesn't stop it, Simpson's found, and that child-picked cotton ends up in a supply chain running though India and Sri Lanka and ultimately to Victoria's Secret products, like the "pair of zebra-print, hip-hugger panties [that sells] for $8.50." This news hits home (or should hit home) with Americans because, first, the child-picked fabric from Burkina Faso hugs us in our most intimate naughty places and, second, this country has its own ugly history of using forced labor to pick cotton. The entire report is framed by the tale of Clarisse Kambire, a 13-year-old Burkinabe girl pulled out of school by an older cousin to work the fields. After picking cotton and hauling manure buckets since dawn, this is how she ends her day:
Clarisse says she’ll use some of the water she’s drawn from the well to wash herself, then she’ll go to the homes of neighbors and friends in the village. If they’re eating, she’ll wait politely and hope they offer her some food. For an enfant confie, this is everyday life, Clarisse says: “If your mother is not with you, you become like an orphan.”
Far away, in midtown Manhattan, Irina Richardson says she’s shopped at Victoria’s Secret for bras and underwear for 15 years and was pleased to think she was doing good. Told of Clarisse’s role in providing cotton for lingerie, the 51-year-old property manager from Long Island says she was stunned. “Buying something made under those conditions shows no respect for other human beings,” she says.
A video of Kambire's tale can be found here. Watching it will make you want to rip apart every cotton-based products in your drawers and never listen to "Brown Sugar" again.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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