Fairtrade International Counters Allegations in Bloomberg article on Burkina Faso cotton

Posted on January 4, 2012

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image copyright Africa Focus - University of Wisconsin-Madison - African woman picking cotton

Just before Christmas we mentioned this incident when it first came out (see link here) and since then have been reading various articles from bloggers, Africa fashion related and ethical fashion related and many opinions and thoughts have arisen. We wanted to wait a little longer to hear the verdict on this point. We have had information from Textile Exchange cotton farming specialists, writers and specialists on fairtrade issues, a cotton organisation in Africa on this topic, and have even viewed a letter from the specific cotton organisation in Burkina Faso to the Bloomberg reporters stating their thoughts on the matter saying:

(I include just a snippet of this letter)

It goes on to say further into the letter the impact this type of allegation ccan have – how wide and far it reaches and whom…

This letter was written as a formal denial to these allegations.

Now Fairtrade |International have put their findings out on a report issued yesterday. See below as it was written with links for your viewing.

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.

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.

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.

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.

For further information please contact Anita Sheth, Senior Advisor Social Compliance and Development (Informal Sectors) at a.sheth@fairtrade.net and Caroline Hickson, Director of Brand and Communication at c.hickson@fairtrade.net

Fairtrade International (FLO) / News / Latest News / Single View.

Do feel free to continue to share your views, your opinions and most of all your experience. Do you work with cotton farmers in Africa? Have you been to an African cotton farm? What is your understanding of fairtrade and child labour issues? Do let us know your thoughts.

Feature photo – Africa Focus, image – source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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