Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Need for Organic Fairtrade Cotton in Burkina Faso

Since December 15th, when Bloomberg wrote an article on forced child labour in Burkina Faso (Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton), there have been press releases, investigations and editorials with further information released about the journalist Cam Simpson's investigation. Bloomberg's Editorial response to investigations by Limited Brands and Fairtrade International came on Friday, January 14th. The following Monday I emailed Fairtrade International:

I am sure the new year is keeping you quite busy as you settle back in. Late last week Bloomberg published an editorial (Child Labor for Victoria’s Secret Cotton Examined by U.S.) in which they stick to their story and add a series of accusations and suggestions against Fairtrade International. Based on the feedback I have been getting online, this has been proving quite worrisome to many Fairtraders on all sides of the supply chain.

Having reviewed the editorial and what they provide as evidence, I would like to suggest a possible platform to air your response. I would like to interview one or two of you, and/or people in Burkina Faso to provide insight to what is going on there. It seems in the editorial that the waters get a bit murky due to accepted cultural norms and attitudes. I would like to offer an interview for posting on my blog as a means to clear things up as you see fit if this is acceptable to you.

On January 19th, I received a reply from Reykia Fick, Media Relations Manager of Fairtrade International:

Thanks so much for getting in touch and for your support on this and other Fairtrade issues. We’ve decided not to do a rebuttal to the latest Bloomberg article at this time. Our primary concern now is the safety, well-being and right to privacy of the people and the community featured in the article. The situation in Burkina Faso is complex and the story brings attention to a serious problem. Our work on this case continues, but even more important is ensuring that all actors work to address the broader issue of ‘enfants confies.’ We remain committed to tackling the wider issue of child labour in Burkina Faso and are finalizing the details of an intensive training and awareness programme, which will be rolled out among farmers and communities there. We feel that to comment more extensively on specific details in the latest Bloomberg article at this time could invite further attention toward the people and communities involved, which may not be in their best interest.

Clearly, Fairtrade International has chosen to move on and address the issue in Burkina Faso rather than spending the time and effort in exchanging words with Bloomberg Media. Throughout this process I have been reaching out to other Fair Trade advocates and those knowledgeable of the multiple environments in which Fair Trade is engaged. Admittedly, trying to remain neutral in this case is difficult and it appears that Rodney North of Equal Exchange stated it best in an email exchange we had concerning this issue, "We have a he said/she said situation. The journalist has said X, and the parties (included The Limited Brands) have said “anti-X”. Both parties, of course, have a very strong vested interest in sticking to their version."  

I am not certain closure with a definitive decision on "who is right and who is wrong" is possible in this case. However, this exchange does bring up two issues. Firstly, forced child labour as socially acceptable in impoverished countries; and secondly, the rationale for Fair Trade to be engaged with communities where child labour is known to exist. Let's be clear - forced child labour is slavery, and to engage with these communities is risky, but essential to bring about change.

Let's take a moment to look at the big picture and formulate a Basic Question to identify what factors contribute to the continuation of slavery in the 21st century. The Basic Question I propose is:
Why does the use of forced child labour continue to persist unabated in impoverished countries such as Burkina Faso?

To analyze this it helps to look at this from a Rights-Based Perspective; to recognize poverty as injustice and this includes marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation as central causes of poverty. Marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation have historical roots that extend back to the days of colonialism. To be colonized meant subjugation to foreign rulers, outright exploitation of natural resources and labor with second-class citizenship for much of the non-Western world. Entire continents were usurped of their riches through colonial policies aimed to expedite the transfer of local wealth to Western coffers and raw materials to feed the expansive growth of Western industries. Today the term globalization has come to replace colonization; and detrimental government policies of the West to replace gunboat diplomacy. 

In an attempt to answer the Basic Question: Why does the use of forced child labour continue to persist unabated in impoverished countries, let's look beyond the usual accusations and plug in a few facts. Cotton is somewhat salt and drought tolerant, and this makes it good crop for arid and semiarid regions. According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Burkina Faso, "the Cotton production is concentrated in West Burkina Faso (the main producing areas are Comoé, Kossi, Mouhoun, and Kénédougou). Most cotton-farms are family-owned and small-scale (on average one hectare)".
Between 2001 and 2009, the price per kg of conventional cotton was $0.39/kg to $0.80/kg as seen on the graph above. On September 20, 2010, Bloomberg featured a story, Cotton Exceeds $1 for First Time Since 1995 on Supply Concern. The culprit for this unheard of increase according to Bloomberg: a shortage of raw cotton available to mills due to considerable losses caused by floods and longer than expected monsoon rains. In other words if you were a cotton farmer that year, and your crop wasn't destroyed, the market shined in your favor. But considering the last time this occurred was 1995, and it is now 2012, one good year for those fortunate farmers out of seventeen is not very good odds and highly dependent on the failures of a majority of the world's cotton farmers. 

In short, the conventional market is not a good bet to get out of poverty for the majority of the world's farmers, hence the continual government subsidizing of American producers so they never feel the pinch and keep global prices artificially low for major industry thereby perpetuating the poverty in developing nations. In other words, the market price is not reflective of the true cost of cotton as a result of Western government intervention by continually subsidizing their farmers. This is just one example of how Western governments facilitate the exploitation of natural resources and raw materials in developing nations. 

A second example of Western governments perpetuating poverty in poor nations is banning the purchase of Burkina Faso cotton in an already artificially low market. To eliminate trade with countries where use of child labour is socially acceptable and a regular occurrence further isolates the victims and perpetuates the practice since no other paradigm exists to counter the existing norm. According to the Bloomberg Editorial Child Labor for Victoria’s Secret Cotton Examined by U.S.:

Under regulations separate from those being examined by homeland security, the U.S. Department of Labor had determined the problem of forced child labor in Burkina Faso’s cotton sector was serious enough to ban its fiber from the federal government’s procurement system. It’s one of just 29 products from a total of 21 countries that U.S. agencies are forbidden from buying under those rules.

Victoria’s Secret executives have said their contract to buy cotton in Burkina Faso broke new ground by dealing directly with farmers. They have also said the program benefits farmers across the country, especially women, and that social premiums paid by the company help deliver clean water.

Since 2007, the company has been one of the top customers of the nation’s fair-trade and organic cotton program. The lingerie maker blends the fiber into millions of pairs of underwear, Lori Greeley, chief executive officer of Victoria’s Secret Stores, told a Wharton School publication last March. Earlier, the company had used cotton from the program to produce an all-organic clothing line sold to customers with the promise that garments were “Good for women” and “Good for the children who depend on them.”

This exemplifies the difference between Fair Trade and conventional trade - Fair Trade can be, and is often used as a means to bring about social change. In Burkina Faso, Fairtrade International offers an alternative business model by engaging communities in which poverty is so dire that the acceptable social norm is to utilize forced child labour. By entering into this challenging environment, they are directly tackling poverty which is a major factor in child labour. Taken a step further, when an organization utilizes a Rights-Based Approach they recognize poverty as injustice and includes marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation as central causes of poverty.  

When Fair Trade is integrated with a Rights-Based Approach it seeks to go to the root of a problem. Conventional trade has no such objectives, seldom considers the social or environmental consequences of trade, and does not consider the rights of producers; conventional trade concentrates on the profits to be made and the logistics to expedite the deal. 

In contrast to maximizing profits, the other extreme is a U.S. government regulation banning all trade in cotton with Burkina Faso due to the common practice of child labour in the impoverished nation. Banning trade only serves to deepen the existing poverty and provides an additional rational for the dehumanizing practice; it doesn't provide any opportunity or model for change. 

I applaud Victoria's Secret for stepping in this direction with Fairtrade International. One of the purposes of the global Fair Trade Movement is to bring to the surface the need for trade justice by challenging the Business as Usual model; to get corporations to reflect on their existing practices and consider the social and environmental impacts their business dealings have on the producers of the commodities they need; clearly Victoria's Secret has taken a step in this direction. For this Victoria's Secret gets a Bronze star in Fair Trade. If they use a majority of Fair Trade organic cotton in their products they get a Silver star, and for 100% a Gold star! (This Fair Trade Rating idea courtesy of Nick Savaidis of Etiko Fairtrade in Australia)

Whether or not the Bloomberg article with it's accusations of child labour on Fair Trade certified farms is true or not, and regardless if Clarisse's real age is 13 or 21, there is a valuable lesson to be learned here. 

Crunching the Numbers:

According to a 2008 impact study by the University of Berne, Organic Cotton Changes Producers' Lives: Impact study on organic and Fairtrade cotton in Burkina Faso, "the average conventional yield is 1,100kg/ha, whereas organic cotton reaches 675kg/ha, although elite organic farmers can potentially push yields above 1,000kg/ha. The factors limiting yields are the choice of marginal zones and plots of land, the lower productivity of new producers and women, and stricter quality criteria for organic cotton." 

For the sake of a long-term evaluation, the 2001 - 2009 data appears to be the norm with a high in March 2008 of USD $0.80/kg and a low in May, 2002 of USD $0.39/kg, and a nine year average of about $0.60/kg. However, this is not reflective of the price farmers receive for their crops. The same Helvetas study cites the price conventional cotton farmers received in 2008 as 165 CFA/kg for conventional cotton. In 2008, that amounted to USD $0.37/kg while the market price listed a high of USD $0.80/kg in March, and a low of USD $0.55/kg in December. In short, the price on the conventional market is clearly not indicative of the price farmers receive from the lowest rung of middlemen between the farmer and the ports.

A calculation here is quite simple with one harvest per year: The average conventional yield is 1,100kg/ha and the average family according to UNCTAD grows cotton on one hectare:

1,100 kg x $0.37 per kg = USD $407

$407 divided by 365 days per year is USD $1.12 per day for one farmer to provide for his entire family. This doesn't include conventional inputs such as the purchase of pesticides and fertilizers chemically engineered for genetically modified cotton which produce sterile seeds, thereby prohibiting farmers from replanting and further increasing input costs. Farmers in the conventional cotton trade are clearly on the receiving end of a system of exploitation. It comes as little surprise there is continued social acceptance of slavery in the form of forced child labour in Burkina Faso; within its own twisted logic due to the artificially low market prices made lower by middlemen, child labour is the obvious answer to keeping a family alive.

Organic Fairtrade Cotton in Burkina Faso
How is Fair Trade an alternative to conventional markets? In a 2007 World Bank publication, Strategies for Cotton in West and Central Africa, the authors write positively about a Helvetas program:

Organic fair trade cotton programs are very popular amongst small producers for several reasons. By definition, organic cotton programs exclude the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides and thus circumvent the problem of accessing input credit. Furthermore, these programs take place on small lots (form 0.25 to 0.5 hectares) that can be cultivated by women (45 percent of organic cotton producers are female) in addition to their chores, or by any other family member willing to get some revenue that he/she cannot earn through family farming (which provides for his/her essential needs such as food and clothing, but is not paid labour). Besides organic and fair trade cotton benefits from a higher payoff… In Burkina Faso, where Helvetas supports a certified organic cotton program, the purchasing price to producers was around 252 CFA F/kg for the 2004/05 season… In Burkina Faso the Helvetas program reached 72 producers in 2003/04 and 818 in 2005/06. (Baghdadli, Cheikhrouhou and Raballand, 2007, p.17)

The Helvetas impact study above provides insight to the effect Fairtrade has for farmers in 2008:

Contrary to a widespread belief, organic production requires 23% less hours of work in the fields than conventional production. 30% of these are worked by non-family members in the form of mutual aid. However, organic farmers spend more time preparing compost. Nevertheless, farmers’ accounts of the advantages of organic production confirm that organic production requires less effort, especially since there is no pesticide spraying.

The gross profit per hectare of cotton is identical in organic and conventional farms. This is due to the lower organic yield being made up for by a higher price, i.e. 272 CFA/kg for organic cotton instead of 165 CFA/kg for conventional cotton. Organic farmers spend 90% less on inputs and this results in their gross margin being 30% better than for conventional production. 

Moreover, the lower cost of inputs also puts some in a more relaxed state of mind, as Yamdare Kaboré, an organic producer from Tenkodogo, testifies: 

“No more exhausting credit!” 

We should also note that the organic producer organisations receive a so-called Fairtrade premium of € 0.05/kg of seed cotton that they can use for community projects. This is generally invested in buildings that are partly used as schools, followed by boreholes for drinking water. Along with cotton, the producers can also sell products such as sesame, shea nuts and hibiscus on favourable terms, enabling them to earn some extra income.

The study reports a more positive perception of human health as well as animal and soil health since organic production started, and this is confirmed by the most experienced organic producers. No more chemicals is the main argument – especially for women – along with less hard work. Health is an essential issue in the Sahel, as Idani Célestine, a cotton producer in Fada, testifies: 
“As regards my health, conventional cotton gave me stomach aches every time I sprayed.” 

It is true that organic means that people do not have to spray their fields with chemicals up to 6 times, and they also see the rewards of the effort they put into production and transporting compost.

“I am proud of our organic cotton. It protects our health and gives us a better income.”
- Wimenga Kourita, organic farmer from Tenkodogo

The impact study clearly delineates the benefits to farmers in the project:
  • 7,000 producers (men and women) in 2008
  • More diversified crop rotations with a higher commercial value
  • An opportunity for women to earn an income
  • 39% lower yields, but a 65% higher price for the farmer
  • 90% less spent on inputs; a 30% higher gross margin
  • Less indebtedness from buying inputs
  • Farmers consider that both human and livestock health have improved
  • Three times more organic manure applied
  • Producers have observed a noticeable improvement in soil fertility

When we make a direct comparison between conventional trade and Fair Trade it becomes quite clear there is a need for Fair Trade to become a world standard versus simply an alternative to Business as Usual with the systematic exploitation of people and resources as embraced in conventional trade. However, that isn't going to happen anytime soon...

What is the future of Fair Trade in Burkina Faso?

To this I repeatedly say, "LOCALIZE FAIRTRADE!!!" Currently one of the obstacles faced in Burkina Faso is the dependence on conventional gins, traders, textile mills and garment factories. To localize Fair Trade requires a vision!

Create a Vision!

With over 7,000 organic Fairtrade cotton producers in the country, the future of Fair Trade is clearly to shift from selling raw materials for export, to value-adding in the locations where the cotton is grown. Imagine Fair Trade cooperatives working towards a common collective goal of raising awareness of Fair Trade locally and nationally while producing high quality products for local, national and regional markets! For the global movement to be sustainable, there needs to be a concerted effort to localizing Fair Trade in the Global South! In this model of localizing Fair Trade, we can progressively work towards ending social acceptance of forced child labour in the 21st century.

Mitch Teberg, MA
Sustainable Development / Fair Trade
Researcher / Trainer / Consultant

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:
The Need for Organic Fairtrade Cotton in Burkina Faso

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bloomberg Responds to Petition Campaign through Editorial

Clarisse, the 13-year old girl at the center of the investigation
© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

On December 15th, Bloomberg's reporter, Cam Simpson and his editors broke a story accusing Fairtrade International of forced child labour on Fairtrade certified organic cotton farms in Burkina Faso (Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton).  In response both Fairtrade International and Limited Brands (Victoria's Secret) conducted investigations and published their findings on January 3rd and 4th:


Investigation Uncovers Inaccuracies in Bloomberg Article

Following these press releases, I initiated a campaign to petition Bloomberg Media for retracting the story if a third-party found the story to be untrue (Read: Take Direct Action with Bloomberg Media!).  The campaign was successful in generating a response from Bloomberg in an editorial on January 14th:

In the editorial Bloomberg reaffirms their stance, presents the complications related to the age of the girl through birth certificate verifications, offers a link to the October 5th interview with Clarisse's mother, presents threats to their reporters, and suggests linkages regarding Fairtrade International chief executive, Rob Cameron stepping down and the December 15th story. In other words, there is a lot for Fairtrade International to account for.  

Bloomberg also provides a more in-depth account of getting the story:

Within hours of the editorial being published, I sent links and an inquiry to the relevant people in Fairtrade International. Much to my disappointment, to this date there has been no press release from Fairtrade International concerning this issue, nor have I received any further information from them despite repeated inquiries.

For this reason I am suspending the campaign on Bloomberg Media until further information comes available. Out of concern for the finding the truth in this matter, I will publish any further information I receive on my blog.  

Mitch Teberg, MA
Sustainable Development / Fair Trade
Researcher / Trainer / Consultant

Feel free to add your comments, thoughts or ideas below or catch me on facebook.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Take Direct Action with Bloomberg Media!

So often when injustice occurs, people fail to take action only to regret it later. I know that I have been guilty of this as have many others. However, it is time for change! I am inviting all who read this blog to participate directly in calling for Bloomberg Media to correct their stance on their December 15th article, Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton, (click here) particularly following the investigations of Fairtrade International and Limited Brands published a week ago. As both investigations clearly point out, the story is a fabrication, yet Bloomberg Media has refused to alter their stance despite repeated calls for correction. For a detailed inquiry and multiple press releases in this matter read: 

Bloomberg News Falsely Accuses Fairtrade
of Child Labour


Fairtrade International Investigation Leads to Questions of Bloomberg's Journalistic Integrity

I like a multi-pronged approach to social justice. Yes, the short-sighted news cycle has passed and their five minutes of fame in Burkina Faso has faded. However, I would like to press it with the editors of Bloomberg since they have never presented us with any additional sources which they claim to have, nor with any verification of ages.  

All too often the bully gets away 
with what he is trying to pull off, 

...and this one went too far.  

There are multiple ways to approach Bloomberg with this issue, and I will provide you with a couple options!  

In this case, and after much deliberation, the best way to get Bloomberg's attention is to flood them with email! So, I have made this simple and drafted a form letter here, all you have to do is cut and paste the emails, and the letter, and click send!! Simple and direct! And yes, I have had success in this approach! Try it and cc me in the email!! 

Help bring Integrity to Corporate Media!
Names and emails removed on 17 January, 2012 - see

Bloomberg Responds to Petition Campaign through Editorial

Mitch Teberg 

Re: Concern over Bloomberg’s December 2011 story of child labour in Fairtrade

Dear Bloomberg CEO & President of Bloomberg L.P. Daniel L. Doctoroff; Chairman of Bloomberg L.P. Peter T. Grauer; Editor-In-Chief of Bloomberg News Matthew Winkler; Director of Communication Ty Trippet; Spokesperson Meghan Womback; Bloomberg Markets Magazine, Drew Kerr; Editors Flynn McRoberts and Melissa Pozsgay; Reporter Cam Simpson and Photographer Chris Ratcliffe,

It has come to my attention that a recent Bloomberg story, Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton, dated 15 December, 2011, claimed forced child labour is used on Fair Trade certified organic cotton farms.

I am concerned that this story has remained unchallenged and has yet to be withdrawn by Bloomberg, particularly after the independent investigations by Fairtrade International and Limited Brands, published on the 3rd and 4th of January which found the story to be lacking in journalistic integrity.

A review of the findings suggests the story is a fabrication. The evidence is clear:

1) The main assertion in the story is against three Fairtrade organic cotton farmers for using forced child labour, Victorien Kamboule, Baasolokoun “Bassole” Dabire, and Louis Joseph Kambire. However, they are not certified by National Federation of Burkina Cotton Producers (UNPBC) as Fairtrade organic cotton growers, which is the only Fairtrade certification organisation in Burkina Faso. This fact can be independently verified through ECOCERT which has a copy of the UNPBC database.

2) When it comes to protecting the rights of exploited children in the media, Journalist Cam Simpson and the Bloomberg editors Flynn McRoberts and Meghan Womback decided to publish the names and identities of the children thereby violating their rights guaranteed under the UN Convention on Rights of the Child and against the guidelines established by the International Federation of Journalists.

3) The photographs taken by Chris Ratcliffe were clearly staged under the premise that he and the journalist Cam Simpson were working for an orphanage project which was a flagrant misrepresentation of their purpose. Furthermore, the Fairtrade International report states Clarisse and her family members were "'woken up early one morning and asked to pose in the cotton field' by the journalist, 'who introduced himself as working for an orphanage project and needed to select three children to be part of this program.'”

4) Clarisse neither lives nor works on a registered organic cotton farm in Burkina Faso. Rather, she works on a vegetable farm. The farmer, Victorien Kamboule grows vegetables for the local market, not organic cotton for export.

5) The 13 year-old girl featured in the story, Clarisse is not a minor, but 21 years-old.

Considering my high regard for the journalistic integrity of your news organization, I am disappointed that Bloomberg continues to stand by this story, which appears to be a fabrication from beginning to end.

I believe the Bloomberg journalist, Cam Simpson needs to be held accountable for the distortions present in the story; and the photojournalist, Chris Ratcliffe should be held accountable for staging a fabricated news photo shoot.

I am also concerned that the editorial leadership of Bloomberg has so far found no need to respond to this evidence. Firstly, they ran the story in clear violation of the children's rights for protection as spelled out under guidelines for journalists. Secondly, the Bloomberg editors also ran a story unchecked and without verification through UNPBC, the very first place editors should begin verifying facts in this case.

Considering the severity of the charges against Bloomberg, I would like to see a transparent and thorough third-party investigation of the alleged facts presented in Cam Simpson’s story and verification of the authenticity of the photographs presented by photographer Chris Ratcliffe with full public disclosure of the results. If the findings match the evidence compiled by the Fairtrade International and Limited Brands investigations I presume a prestigious news organization such as Bloomberg’s would understand the journalistic imperative in retracting the original story dated 15 December, 2011.

Yours sincerely,

A second option is to sign a petition on! Every time someone signs a petition, an email is sent to those listed above! 

For those living outside the US, or if the above link doesn't work, you can go to the page directly:

A third option for those who prefer direct dialogue, here are a few numbers in the US to contact:
Names and emails removed on 17 January, 2012 - see

Bloomberg Responds to Petition Campaign through Editorial

Demand a transparent and thorough third-party investigation of the story, reporter Cam Simpson and photographer Chris Ratcliffe with full public disclosure of the results by the Bloomberg Editors!

This can not be swept under the rug and forgotten - take Direct Action! We can make change happen and bring accountability and transparency to corporate media and reporters like Cam Simpson!

Grassroots movements succeed because people like you are willing to spread the word! Share this blog post and the petition on social media, with your friends and family, and all those who believe in Fair Trade!!! Use this as a framework to initiate your own campaign on Bloomberg Media and make corporate media accountable!

Mitch Teberg, MA
Sustainable Development / Fair Trade
Researcher / Trainer / Consultant 

Note: 48 hours into this campaign, I have been encouraged by the number of people emailing directly and even one who called and spoke to an Editor! It is good to remember these are people too, and that open dialogue is a positive thing! 

For those who have not read the 2 previous posts where the original story is clearly linked, the link to the original Bloomberg article is linked as: (click here) in the first paragraph of this blog post...  


Bloomberg Media Responds in January 13th Editorial

Through an editorial Bloomberg's has provided more information on their investigation into forced child labour on organic Fairtrade Certified farms in Burkina Faso and have made additional accusations against Fairtrade International. To read the editorial go to:

For an update on this campaign, read Journey for Fair Trade: 

Bloomberg Responds to Petition Campaign through Editorial

Feel free to add your comments, thoughts or ideas below or catch me on facebook. For those who prefer to read on Black and White, or to print out this post, here it is in a downloadable pdf format:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fairtrade International Investigation Leads to Questions of Bloomberg's Journalistic Integrity

After two days of picking cotton, child laborer Clarisse Kambire
carries a large wicker bushel of fiber from the field to a storehouse
almost a mile away. Photographer: © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."
- Mark Twain

When a journalist accuses Fairtrade producers of forced child labour, the charges must be taken seriously followed by a thorough investigation. However, when a reporter's story proves to be unsubstantiated, there is a need to question the media. In relation to Bloomberg's story on child labour on a Fairtrade certified organic cotton farm, my own inquiry found the farmers cited in the December 15th story were not certified as the article claims (Read Journey for Fair Trade: Bloomberg News Falsely Accuses Fairtrade of Child Labour). Despite contacting the editors directly with the discrepancy, they held to their story.

On January 3rd, Bloomberg editors once again attacked Fairtrade International in an editorial citing their journalist, Cam Simpson's investigation into child labour in Burkina Faso.

In recent years, the fair-trade movement has presented itself as an answer, offering, at a premium, goods and commodities certified to have been produced without exploitation. It is thus all the more appalling that a fair trade program in Burkina Faso has been shown, in an investigation published in Bloomberg Markets Magazine, to have used child laborers to produce cotton that wound up in most of the cotton-underwear lines sold by Victoria’s Secret.

The scandal is a reminder that fair-trade stamps are only meaningful to the extent the unregulated organizations that grant them abide by their promise to enforce their own standards. The largest of these, Fairtrade International, which certified the Burkina Faso cotton, is investigating its mistake.

However, further inquiries have found the real scandal is Bloomberg's reporter falsifying and sensationalizing the entire story. On the same day of Bloomberg's editorial, the findings of Fairtrade International investigation was published. The results raise many serious questions about the journalistic integrity of Bloomberg's Editors Flynn McRoberts and Melissa Pozsgay, their reporter Cam Simpson, and photo journalist, Chris Ratcliffe. For the sake of transparency, I have republished the press release from Fairtrade International investigation here:

Fairtrade International Counters Allegations in Bloomberg article on Burkina Faso cotton

03 January 2012

In accordance with its internal Child Protection Policy and Procedures, Fairtrade International followed up on the allegations made in the Bloomberg article, “Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton,” published on 15 December 2011. We have found substantial contradictions in the facts presented in the article based on the information we have obtained from our field assessment.

Fairtrade International takes any allegations on the violation of human rights of the child very seriously. Following Cam Simpson’s allegations, we travelled with leading officials of UNPCB to the village of Benvar in Burkina Faso. We met the Fairtrade cotton producers and impacted children and families identified in the Bloomberg article. The aim of our trip was to conduct an assessment, develop a remediation process for impacted children, and provide support to UNPCB to further develop their actions plans to eliminate child labour and implement child protection measures.

Fairtrade conducted child safe interviews with the people identified in the article as children (persons below the age of 18). We can report that at the time of our interviews the “girl” and her family identified in the article were secure and safe. However, the information they gave us regarding the facts reported and the methods the journalist used concerns us greatly.

Clarisse Kambire, 13, a child laborer, sits on a bench in the room
where she sleeps in the home of her foster parent and his family.
Photographer: © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Most significantly, according to our information, the “girl” who featured prominently in the article is not 13 years old as reported. We have seen her birth certificate and corroborated her age with school records. She cannot accurately be described as a child as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (i.e., under 18 years old).

In addition, she is not involved in cotton growing and therefore is not participating in Fairtrade certified cotton production. Instead she works on a family-owned vegetable farm, growing locally consumed products for which there are no Fairtrade Standards nor Fairtrade certified producers in this region.

Clarisse Kambire, right, works with other child laborers to harvest
organic cotton grown in the fields of her farmer foster parent.
© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Furthermore, the “girl” and her family members report that she “was woken up early one morning and asked to pose in the cotton field” by the journalist, “who introduced himself as working for an orphanage project and needed to select three children to be part of this program.”

Given these inaccuracies, Fairtrade refutes the information about the “girl” and her family as presented in the Bloomberg article and accordingly questions the credibility of the report.

We also question the methods used by the journalist to obtain the reported information. Fairtrade International strongly recommends that media adopt child protection methods and a rights-based approach to relate with those they identify as persons under the age of 18. Identifying a young person by their first and last names, through images, or where they live, and providing alleged first-hand testimonies from them on issues of grave human rights concern may put them at extreme risk. All effort is needed to ensure that journalists and others who come into contact with children and young people follow protection guidelines as indicated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Additionally, we recommend that journalists follow the Guidelines for Journalist and Media Professionals developed by the Intentional Federation of Journalist (published here).

On one point we do agree: More work is needed to ensure that children in the cotton producing communities of Burkina Faso and elsewhere enjoy their rights to protection and increased well being. As part of our ongoing work in this area, and in agreement with UNPCB, Fairtrade International has prioritised further training on child labour and child protection for its members which will begin in early 2012.

Child labour is a global problem. No person or product certification system can provide a 100% guarantee that a product is free of child labour. What Fairtrade guarantees is that if we find breaches to our child labour requirements, we take immediate action to protect children. We work to prevent farms that use child labour from entering the Fairtrade system, and support them and their communities to tackle the problem. Fairtrade has chosen to work in products and regions with known risk of child labour because this is where our work is most needed.

Fairtrade believes that child labour can only be effectively addressed in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders, including government, private sector, NGOs, trade unions, producers, their communities and children themselves. We continue to engage with all stakeholders to ensure increased well being of children and young people living in and around Fairtrade communities.

Read Fairtrade’s response to Bloomberg’s article of 23 December, 2011. ([tt_news]=264)
For further information please contact Anita Sheth, Senior Advisor Social Compliance and Development (Informal Sectors) at and Caroline Hickson, Director of Brand and Communication at

Where is the Integrity of Bloomberg Media? 

Unless the bar for journalistic integrity is exceptionally low, it is intolerable for any editor to accept a journalist's claim of six weeks investigating the subject of forced child labour on Fairtrade certified organic cotton fields in Burkina Faso when the final story is centered on assembling a few local children they assumed were under 18, including Clarisse, for a photo shoot in and around a cotton field. Not to mention Cam Simpson's UNSUBSTANTIATED claim the farmers he interviewed utilizing child labour were Fairtrade certified growers when they are clearly not. When I say unsubstantiated, the farmers were not listed with the only certifying organization in the country and the editors of Bloomberg have failed to provide me with their other sources for independent verification despite my repeated requests.

As for interviewing children, Cam Simpson has complete disregard for their rights in the name of getting a sensationalized story for corporate media. After assuming Clarisse was a minor, his failure to utilize a child-safe approach when interviewing the children in the story is readily apparent to any reader. The aforementioned guidelines from the International Federation of Journalists for protecting child rights in media is clearly laid out, to include the need to address the media's tendency toward sensationalism.
Journalists need to be aware of the consequences of their reporting. The co-operation of media organisations and journalists and their orientation towards safeguarding the rights and the dignity of children and young adults is extremely important for all who strive for wider recognition of children’s rights. Sensational coverage may distort and exploit a serious problem, doing more harm than good. Some editors claim that sensationalism permits serious social issues to capture the attention of readers and viewers. However, such coverage rarely analyses the social and economic causes of abuse of children: the dislocation of communities and families, homelessness, corrupt employers, pimps, the drug culture or why parents in poverty sell a child to support the rest of the family.  The positive story of children, their lives and their rights is not being told in full. To examine how this can be changed requires examination of the professional conditions in which media work, a review of the principles or guidelines journalists and programme makers should follow, and the obstacles that stand in the way of good journalism. 

…The aim of the guidelines—Pages 61-63—is to raise the standards of journalism in reporting on issues involving children, and to encourage media to promote children’s rights and give them a voice. The code promotes:

  • respect for the privacy of children and protection of their identity unless it is demonstrably in the public interest; 
  • the need to give children access to media to express their own opinion;
  • the obligation to verify information before publication; 
  • the need to consider the consequences of publication and to minimize harm to children.
The code will also help media to avoid:
  • sexual, violent or victim-focused programming and images that are potentially damaging to children; 
  • stereotypes and sensational presentation of journalistic material.

If Clarisse Kambire had been 13 as the story alleges, clearly Bloomberg has protected neither her identity nor her privacy. We do hear her views, however the truthfulness of the reporting needs further investigation on behalf of Bloomberg editors since Clarisse doesn't actually work in a cotton field as the Fairtrade International investigation clearly points out (yes editors, a thorough inquiry entails more than simply asking the reporter and letting it go at that). The obligation to verify information before publication has yet to be established by Bloomberg editors who who have repeatedly refused to answer that specific inquiry. As for the consequences of publishing an evidently falsified story, I am not convinced Cam Simpson or his editors really considered it.

Page 57 of the Guidelines for Journalist and Media Professionals delineates clearly the steps to interviewing a child while respecting their rights, and on page 63 they also establish the bar for journalism:

Journalists and media organisations shall strive to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct in reporting children’s affairs and, in particular, they shall:
  1. strive for standards of excellence in terms of accuracy and sensitivity when reporting on issues involving children; 
  2. avoid programming and publication of images which intrude upon the media space of children with information which is damaging to them; 
  3. avoid the use of stereotypes and sensational presentation to promote journalistic material involving children; 
  4. consider carefully the consequences of publication of any material concerning children and shall minimise harm to children; 
  5. guard against visually or otherwise identifying children unless it is demonstrably in the public interest; 
  6. give children, where possible, the right of access to media to express their own opinions without inducement of any kind; 
  7. ensure independent verification of information provided by children and take special care to ensure that verification takes place without putting child informants at risk; 
  8. avoid the use of sexualised images of children; 
  9. use fair, open and straight forward methods for obtaining pictures and, where possible, obtain them with the knowledge and consent of children or a responsible adult, guardian or carer; 
  10. verify the credentials of any organisation purporting to speak for or to represent the interests of children. 
  11. not make payment to children for material involving the welfare of children or to parents or guardians of children unless it is demonstrably in the interest of the child.

Obviously there was no strive for standards of excellence, but merely sensationalism. Had Clarisse been a minor, fully disclosing her identity and location was clearly a violation of her rights. The quotes from Clarisse and the journalistic integrity of Cam Simpson are in question since Clarisse doesn't work on a Fairtrade certified farm, but on "family-owned vegetable farm, growing locally consumed products for which there are no Fairtrade Standards nor Fairtrade certified producers in this region," and he would have known that if verified the status of the farmer with UNPCB

Regarding the photographs, both Chris Ratcliffe and Cam Simpson need to be reviewed for assembling children in the area for a staged photo shoot. This includes LYING to the children and family as reported in the Fairtrade International investigation which states, the “girl” and her family members report that she “was woken up early one morning and asked to pose in the cotton field” by the journalist, “who introduced himself as working for an orphanage project and needed to select three children to be part of this program.” Additionally when Bloomberg editors published the photos there was a blatant disregard for guarding against visually identifying the children in the publication.

To continue my previous inquiry with parties involved in the story, I emailed Bloomberg Editiors Flynn McRoberts and Melissa Pozsgay, and reporter Cam Simpson once again:

Dear Bloomberg Editors and Journalist Cam Simpson,
Yesterday Fairtrade International released their results from their investigation into your allegations of child labour in organic Fairtrade cotton ( The inquiry results lead to serious questions regarding the journalistic integrity of the reporter Cam Simpson and the photographer Chris Ratcliffe, as well as raise questions regarding your motives for utilizing such a low bar in your approach to journalism.

My inquiry is simple since you seem to be attacking Fairtrade International through a series of articles the past month, do you have a response to these findings on your journalistic methodologies? 

I will openly publish your response on my next blog post as well.

The response from Bloomberg's Spokesperson, Meghan Womack was direct and to the point, "Your email was passed along to my attention. We've requested a copy of the birth certificate. We have four independent age verifications. We stand by our reporting." 

I am interested to see the results of their verification. To her response I inquired further:

Hello Meghan,
Thank you for your expedient reply. Clarisse has become center stage of the investigation, and out of concern for her reported age as a minor, exactly what steps did her interviewer take in order to protect her rights as set out by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to comply with the Guidelines for Journalist and Media Professionals developed by the Intentional Federation of Journalist?

I would also like to inquire again as to the verification of Fairtrade certification of the three farmers central to the story, Victorien Kamboule, Baasolokoun “Bassole” Dabire, and Louis Joseph Kambire. They were in fact, not certified as Fairtrade by the only certifying agency in the country, the National Union of Cotton Producers of Burkina Faso (UNPBC). Their roster can also be independently verified by ECOCERT in Burkina Faso. The only two other sources cited are a "local cooperative leader" and a green flag in the photographed field. What additional sources can verify these farmers as Fairtrade, which is the lynch pin of your story?

To this there was no reply from Bloomberg Editors or their Spokesperson. Evidently they stand by their reporter...

What can we do? 
             We can take Direct Action!

Contact your local and national press! Bring this case to social media online! 

Contact the Bloomberg reporter Cam Simpson and his editors Flynn McRoberts and Melissa Pozsgay regarding the falsified story of child labour in Fairtrade certified farms with questionable reporting practices and unsubstantiated linkages. If you take a stand for integrity in media, take Direct Action now:

Demand a transparent and thorough third-party investigation of the story, reporter Cam Simpson and photographer Chris Ratcliffe with full public disclosure of the results by the Bloomberg Editors! 

As Michael noted in the comment below, this has been collaborated in Victoria Secret's investigation as well. The report also provides Clarisse's true age:

This can not be swept under the rug and forgotten - take Action! We can make change happen and bring accountability and transparency to corporate media and reporters like Cam Simpson!

Raise your voice and be heard! Get involved and Take Direct Action on behalf of Fair Trade. Send an email, sign a petition or give Bloomberg's a call directly! Join the campaign and Click here to make a stand!:

Take Direct Action with Bloomberg Media!

Mitch Teberg, MA
Sustainable Development / Fair Trade
Researcher / Trainer / Consultant

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