Clarisse Kambire, right, works with other child laborers to harvest
organic cotton grown in the fields of her farmer foster parent.
© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
|A telltale green flag, given to its growers |
by local cooperatives, flies at the edge
of the field where Clarisse works.
At this point I began to question, Who or What can verify that the farmer in question, Mr. Victorien Kamboule, is both an organic and Fair Trade certified grower, and in a Helvetas program? According to Simpson's story, his two primary sources of validation are a local cooperative leader and a green flag planted at the edge of the field. The story goes on to provide more information of her daily experience during the cotton growing season:
The article continues to depict the perceptions of two other "organic and Fair Trade" certified cotton farmers, Mr. Louis Joseph Kambire and Baasolokoun “Bassole” Dabire, who according to Simpson is "president of the organic and fair-trade cooperative in the village of Yabogane". Also according to the Bloomberg reporter, the farmers receive no training on Fair Trade, nor on the use of child labour:
... Like others, Baasolokoun “Bassole” Dabire, 53, president of the organic and fair-trade cooperative in the village of Yabogane, didn’t get the message. He said his understanding was that it’s acceptable for his roughly 60 farmers to use children in their fields on two conditions: They’re not their own biological children, and they’re at least six years old.
|Clarisse carries her bushel to the home of a family where the |
farmer she works for stores his cotton because it’s closer
to the pickup point for the organic and fair-trade program.
These accusations against Fairtrade International and Helvetas are both shocking and demand investigation if they are true. Immediately, I began my inquiry by contacting Tobias Meier of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation. Mr. Meier who is cited in Simpson's story provided me with the press release from Helvetas, in which the organization pledges "All involved stakeholders - Victoria’s Secret, UNPCB, Helvetas and FLO – started investigations, and all are determined to initiate bold and sustainable measures if the claims are substantiated." For the sake of transparency, I have republished the Helvetas press release here:
Helvetas’ response to claims of child labor in organic cotton production in Burkina Faso
Although I was unable to solicit an email reply to my direct inquiry with Fairtrade International for this blog post, they did publish a response to the Bloomberg article (http://www.fairtrade.net/single_view1.html?&cHash=1e673f238300da6950d1e11cc9a633ca&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=264):
UNPCB is the national organization for cotton farmers in Burkina Faso comprising hundreds of thousands of farmers, of which only a fraction belong to Fairtrade certified community-level cooperatives. While we cannot as yet confirm whether the child labour case(s) identified by Bloomberg are on Fairtrade certified farms, our Child Protection Policy and Procedures require us to act in the best interest of children who are identified as in need of care through the Fairtrade system. This means that we act with relevant child rights experts where ever possible to ensure that children in producer communities are protected and enjoy increased well being.
Fairtrade prohibits child labour as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) minimum age and the Worst Forms of Child Labour conventions. However, no person or product certification system can provide a 100% guarantee that a product is free of child labour. Child labour, especially exploitative and abusive forms of child labour, are illegal activities that are often well hidden. Fairtrade provides a rigorous certification and audit system designed to detect and remediate cases of child labour. We guarantee that if breaches of our requirements on child labour are found, we take immediate action to protect children, prevent the farms using child labour from selling into the Fairtrade system, and then support the producer organization to strengthen its own systems and develop child protection policies and procedures adapted to their specific context.
In the aforementioned interview with Michelle Block of NPR, Simpson explained the certification is done by a national organization and not by FLO directly:
In the UNPBC press release he clearly states that only one of the three farmers in the story, Louis Joseph Kambire is certified as an organic farmer, but not Fair Trade. The other two farmers in the story, Clarissa's tormentor Mr. Victorien Kamboule, nor the supposed president of an organic and Fair Trade, cooperative Mr. Baasolokoun “Bassole” Dabire are not certified as either organic or Fair Trade cotton growers with the UNPBC.
As for the training received by the one certified organic cotton farmer in the story, according to the UNPBC Louis Joseph Kambire has attended trainings and awareness raising campaigns on the issue of Child Labour.
To allow for third party verification of whose farms are registered on as organic and / or Fair Trade, the President of UNPBC can independently verify his roster with ECOCERT (http://www.ecocert.com/en) has a copy of the UNPBC database. For transparency and accountability to the facts, I have published the UNPBC press release here:
UNPCB's Formal Declaration of Denial to Bloomberg's False Accusation
I emailed the reporter Cam Simpson and the Bloomberg editors Flynn McRoberts and Melissa Pozsgay in charge of this story to inquire of their sources.
The reply from Flynn McRoberts was direct and to the point, "Thank you for your interest, Mr. Mitch. Yes, we did and with multiple sources." To this I provided a copy of the UNPBC press release and replied,
Please do share further sources on the certification of these three farmers.
The Bloomberg Editor responded that they were aware of the UNPCB's statement, "We have reviewed the story and the reporting and we stand by our story."
Take Direct Action!
The Bloomberg story is one of child labour in Burkina Faso, and this issue desperately needs to be addressed in both corporate board rooms and in corporate media. However, to link this abusive situation to Fair Trade is unfounded and proven to be untrue with the only national organization authorized to provide such certification.
However, don't just take my word for it. Having read the press release of UNPBC, I encourage you to read the story for yourself at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-15/victoria-s-secret-revealed-in-child-picking-burkina-faso-cotton.html.
Furthermore, you can contact ECOCERT in Burkina Faso directly (http://ap.ecocert.com/contact/contact.php?id=BF) to independently inquire a third party of the status of those farmers quoted in the story: are Victorien Kamboule, Baasolokoun “Bassole” Dabire, and Louis Joseph Kambire on the UNPBC roster as Fair Trade certified growers, or not?
Take Direct Action with corporate media! Contact the Bloomberg reporter Cam Simpson and his editors Flynn McRoberts and Melissa Pozsgay regarding their linkage of child labour and Fair Trade in this story. Their emails can be found at the bottom of the Bloomberg article.
Mitch Teberg, MA
To read more on the findings from the Fairtrade International investigation read Journey for Fair Trade:
Feel free to add your comments, thoughts or ideas below or catch me on facebook. For those who prefer reading black on white, here is the downloadable version of this post on pdf:
Bloomberg News Falsly Accuses Fairtrade of Child Labour