Skimpy underthings, fabricated events, thinly veiled threats, and a dead girl’s birth certificate—just when you thought the Victoria’s Secret West African child-labor scandal couldn’t get any weirder, now Homeland Security is leaping into the fray, according to Bloomberg News on Friday. The media outlet, which “outed” the lingerie empire in December for allegedly using underaged labor in its so-called “fair trade” line of undergarments, also refuted claims by Fairtrade International that the story was complete bunk. To thicken the plot, Fairtrade International, which oversees the fair-trade program in Burkina Faso, has also removed certain assertions about Bloomberg’s report from its website, specifically one that claimed that Cam Simpson, the reporter, asked a girl and her family to pose in a cotton field under false pretenses.
HE SAID, IT SAID
One of the main sticking points? The age of Clarisse Kambire, the “13-year-old” who features heavily in Simpson’s original story. Fairtrade International, which obtained Kambire’s birth certificate and school records, claims she was at least 18 at the time of the writing—by no means a child as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
One of the main sticking points? The age of Clarisse Kambire, the “13-year-old” who features heavily in Simpson’s original story.
But Bloomberg News, which stands by its story, says that the birth certificate cited as evidence names a deceased older sister, whose name Kambire adopted after her sibling died more than a decade ago, according to their parents. (Kambire the younger supposedly has no birth record, which is a common occurrence across West Africa.) Simpson also claims he confirmed through several sources that Kambire indeed picks cotton for Burkina Faso’s fair-trade and organic program, not vegetables, as Fairtrade International countered in its rebuttal.
Still following? Good. Here’s where it gets even trickier. After the story broke, representatives from Union Nationale des Producteurs de Coton du Burkina Faso (UNPCD), the national farmers’ federation, allegedly intimidated producers in the village of Benvar, which was named in the report. Simpson, who says he was threatened with arrest by UNCB’s regional chief, Mande Diallo, was further warned that returning to Benvar would be “at [his] own peril.”