French retailer Carrefour has teamed with the United Nations and others to help rural Colombians earn a legal living - through the manufacture of racy lingerie.

An alternative development project, developed in response to the proliferation of coca growing by ex-coffee farmers, will see hundreds of Colombians in the Valle del Cauca region begin producing lingerie for the retailer's Symphony range.

Backed by the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers, the country's French embassy, the UN drug office and Carrefour, the project is designed to keep rural Colombian workers out of the cocaine trade following the collapse of the coffee-growing industry.

"We are opening up a universe of new possibilities for Colombia's rural communities," federation head Gabriel Silva said of the project.

In conjunction with cooperative training centre Integrated Industries, which operates 12 manufacturing plants across the province, 800 female project participants have begun manufacturing G-strings, brassieres and garter belts for Carrefour's 11 retail outlets in Colombia.

The undergarments will also be sold at overseas outlets in the coming months.
Under the employment arrangement, workers take home about US$280 per month - nearly double the minimum wage and far more lucrative than growing coffee.

They also receive health benefits and holiday pay.

In this year alone, Carrefour has spent about US$63,500 on the project, with a further projected $106,000 to be spent in 2004.

Colombia produces about 70 per cent of the world's cocaine.