The Scent of Child Labor in Your Perfume

Saying you have zero tolerance for forced labor and child labor is easy; making sure they don’t exist in your supply chain is much more difficult. 

“[While] luxury perfume brands claim to have zero tolerance on child labour, a BBC investigation into last summer’s perfume supply chains found jasmine used by Lancôme and Aerin Beauty’s suppliers was picked by minors,” according to a BBC News article by Ahmed ElShamy and Natasha Cox published yesterday. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, said he was disturbed by the World Service’s evidence, which includes undercover filming in Egyptian jasmine fields during last year’s picking season.

“On paper, they [the industry] are promising so many good things, like supply chain transparency and the fight against child labour. Looking at this footage, they are not actually doing things that they promised to do.”

Why would jasmine suppliers use child laborers? The answer is not surprising: “Industry insiders told us the handful of companies that own many luxury brands [Lancôme is owned by L’Oréal and Aerin Beauty is owned by Estée Lauder] are squeezing budgets, resulting in very low pay. Egyptian jasmine pickers say this forces them to involve their children.”

In similar news, CBS News reported earlier this month that “BMW, Volkswagen and Jaguar Land Rover have bought parts made by a Chinese company sanctioned under a 2021 law for using forced labor [the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act], a U.S. Senate investigation found, resulting in a call by lawmakers for stricter enforcement.”

As quoted in the article, Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chair of the committee, said, “Automakers are sticking their heads in the sand and then swearing they cannot find any forced labor in their supply chains. Automakers’ self-policing is clearly not doing the job. [Customs and Border Protection must] “supercharge enforcement and crack down on companies that fuel the shameful use of forced labor in China.”

I have written about the problem of forced labor and child labor in supply chains for more than a decade (e.g.,“How Many Slaves Are In Your Supply Chain?” published in 2013). The bottom line is that eradicating this problem isn’t easy, especially if companies at the top of the supply chain continue to squeeze their suppliers on cost. There is also no silver bullet solution. To ensure compliance with laws and regulations related to forced labor, companies must invest time and money in people, processes, and technologies to address this problem. 

As I wrote in “Can You Have Supply Chain Visibility Without Responsibility?,” you can’t aspire to have end-to-end supply chain visibility, which is what every manufacturer and retailer wants in order to become more agile and responsive, without also accepting end-to-end responsibility. The scope of end-to-end supply chain visibility must go beyond the status of orders, shipments, and inventory — it must also include having timely, accurate, and complete visibility to labor, safety, environmental, and legal practices across the entire supply chain. 

And as I wrote back in 2013: If you want to create socially responsible supply chains, you have to develop a more granular and detailed understanding of your supply chains. You have to improve the way you communicate and collaborate with your suppliers, especially lower-tiered ones. And most importantly, you can’t outsource the responsibility; the buck ultimately stops with you, the brand owner. You have to see and walk your supply chain, from start to finish, with your own eyes and feet.

For related commentary on this topic, please read the following posts: