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Retales™ - Sexual harassment in the fashion industry

Nick Thorpe


United Kingdom

Retales™ - Sexual harassment in the fashion industry

British Vogue has become the first fashion publisher to sign up to a code of conduct for the treatment of models, followed hot on their heels by Debenhams.  The code has been produced by the union Equity in response to treatment its members have received when working on photoshoots.

Tales of sexual harassment within the fashion industry are rife.  In a 2012 survey carried out by The Model Alliance (an organisation that represents models in the USA) nearly 30% of models said they had experienced inappropriate touching in the workplace.  A similar figure said they had been pressurised to have sex with someone at work.  The position in the UK does not appear to be any better, with accounts of sexual harassment being reported in the British press.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by the Equality Act 2010.  The Equality Act also prohibits harassment on other grounds such as age, race and sexual orientation, defining harassment as conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.  The ten point model’s code of conduct seeks to protect models from such behaviour.  It stipulates that models should be treated with respect and dignity and should not be subjected to any action which is degrading or demeaning.  It also provides models with assurances on the length of their working hours, breaks, refreshments, changing rooms, nudity and semi-nudity, insurance and prompt payment.

Whilst the model’s code will not be enforceable in employment tribunals it does support principles of equality set out in the Equality Act.  Fashion players who choose to ignore these principles are not immune from the law and are exposing themselves to the risk of discrimination and sexual harassment claims and the negative publicity that such claims attract.  Hopefully the code will provide a serious reminder that models, like all other workers, should be treated with respect and dignity.

Even if fashion retailers do not sign up to the code they are well advised to put policies in place to ensure that appropriate workplace conditions and standards of behaviour are maintained on photoshoots.  A company can be held vicariously liable for the discriminatory actions of their employees and agents.  However, by having appropriate policies in place it may be possible to establish a defence to such claims.

For further advice on this, or any other retail employment issue, please contact Nick Thorpe, Partner Employment and Pensions Group."

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