For a long time, Victoria’s Secret has been a key player in the world of lingerie. The stores are a staple of any shopping centre or high street. If asked to name a scandal in the fashion industry, many people would suggest the lack of body diversity in the brand’s iconic Angels. But this is not the only secret they would rather not share.
Victoria’s Sweatshops – The Problem
In 2016, reports stated that Victoria’s Secret controlled 40% of the UK’s lingerie market. The meagre wages allegedly paid to workers in their sweatshops did not reflect the high prices of their garments.
The company had, and still has, a strong grip on the market. However, it seems that their financial success has not translated into ethical treatment of workers. As in so many other cases, the grim reality for those who make the clothes is seemingly a far cry from the glamorous adverts in which we see them.
Do they really ‘Love Every Body’?
One of the brand’s slogans is ‘Love Every Body’. They claim to be willing to accommodate women with a wide variety of chest sizes. But this generosity does not seem to spread to the women allegedly forced to make these bras in countries including Jordan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. They could expect to earn just 4 cents per garment sewn, according to reports from as early as 2008. By comparison, Glass Clothing tailors always make at least 2x the National Minimum Wage.
However, this was not the end of the story. The cotton used allegedly came from child workers in Burkino Faso. Instead of attending school, children are reported to have worked long hours handpicking cotton. In fact, they seemed to not even have the guarantee of a daily meal.
‘Limited Brands’, Limited Ethics
There is a wider pattern of unethical practice stemming from the parent company, Limited Brands. Specifically, reports found that the Ohio-based company used child labor in Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
They claimed in 2011 that their standards “expressly prohibit child labor”. Yet again, the reports told a different story.
Fairtrade, but not fair pay
Victoria’s Secret garments contain Fairtrade cotton. A Bloomberg report detailed the mistreatment of a girl of just 13 who picked this cotton.
The girl, Clarisse Kambire, reportedly lived a nightmare far apart from the sexy adverts we see. She, and many children like her, are seen to have suffered every day to produce these expensive garments.
A company like Victoria’s Secret generates billions of dollars of revenue. They turned a profit of $3.5 billion in 2016. However, it seems that hardly any of this reaches the people who make the clothes.
Has it got better?
Little seems to have changed for the workers making these garments. As with many other cases, the scandal faded after apparently empty promises from Victoria’s Secret and Limited Brands.
By claiming that child labor is prohibited and highlighting their use of Fairtrade cotton, the companies were able to continue as normal. But for those who truly care about ethical practices, this cannot be enough.
Fairtrade is an attempt to ensure workers are paid fairly. But it isn’t an insurance of ethical practice. Consumers need to work to ensure that the glossy front does not hide another dirty secret.
Click Here to read about allegations of sweatshop use in Beyoncé’s ‘Ivy Park’ brand.