Chocolate Vs. Undies

I would like to contrast the case of chocolate to that of undies: I recently discovered that Victoria’s Secret allegedly uses some child-picked cotton in certain items – some of which were, in fact, officially certified as Fair Trade, until the truth was uncovered. Victoria’s Secret disputes that their “fair trade” cotton from Burkina Faso employs child labor, but Bloomberg news contends otherwise. Since the initial discovery of the “fair trade” cotton’s true origins, there has been a US government investigation (Burkina Faso cotten is on the US government list of child-labor produced goods), and Victoria’s Secret has removed the “fair trade” lable from the Burkina Faso cotton, however, they have not stopped using that cotton. (See The Business Pundit report, which is the most recent update I could get on the issue.)

Victoria’s Secret imports 600 metric tons of cotton from Burkina Faso a year, so boycotting them would have a big impact, however,  I wonder: If I boycott Victoria’s Secret, how do I know that the (non)clothing I’m buying somewhere else is not also produced through child labor? Victoria’s Secret is a famous company, yet their alleged use of child-labor-harvested cotton is not widely known. Surely,  for a less famous company to get away with using unfairly harvested cotton, it must be even easier. Unless I actually investigate all major brand names, and only buy from those who meet my ethical standards, there is no way of knowing which human rights abuses my clothes-shopping may be implicating me in. The other solution is to buy all of one’s clothes from thrift-shops, boutiques, home-made stores or websites such as etsy. While I have a friend who does that, I do think putting that amount of effort into one’s clothing shopping may be unfair to ask of most people. I do think however, that while one may not be obligated to personally investigate every brand before buying, once one knows for a fact that a certain brand uses child labor, one becomes obligated to not buy from that company; paying an extra ten dollars for a night-gown, or not buying that exact top, but instead, getting a similiar one, from a different company, seems like a fair sacrifice – a sacrifice that works best when one informs the company why one is boycotting it.

Being an ethical consumer in today’s globalized world is a difficult task, but it is doable – one pair of underwear at a time.

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