More than 100 models signed an open letter to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas on Wednesday (February 5th), urging him to take action to stop alleged abuses at the company. The Model Alliance, an association that supports people working in the fashion industry, wrote the letter. In it, the non-profit organization urges Victoria’s Secret to join its Respect program, in which participating companies commit to a code of conduct that guarantees safety in the workplace.
The New York Times recently published a report describing a “culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment” at Victoria’s Secret. Environment that would have been encouraged by Ed Razek and Les Wexner, two senior executives of the parent company of the lingerie brand, L Brands, according to former and current executives, employees, entrepreneurs and models. Citing the newspaper’s investigation as what motivated the letter, Model Alliance writes: “We believe that this moment may be a wake-up call for Victoria’s Secret.”
Sources told the New York Times that Ed Razek, a former L Brands executive who resigned last October, allegedly asked women to sit on his lap and kiss him. Sara Ziff, a longtime model, founder and executive director of Model Alliance, told Business Insider that the Alliance has been talking to L Brands about harassment issues for several months.
“It is both frustrating and deeply troubling that Victoria’s Secret/L Brands has still not taken the concerns of models about their safety at work seriously,” she said indignantly. On January 29, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the Wexner intended to sell Victoria’s Secret and step down as CEO.
A spokesperson for L Brands told Business Insider: “Model Alliance and we share a common goal of ensuring the safety and well-being of our models. Our robust procedures during photo shoots, training and supervision, were put in place in May 2019 and reflect elements of the RESPECT program, or even go further. We are proud of the progress we have made and remain invested in a constantly evolving approach. We are always ready to engage with those who are looking to make improvements in the industry.”
Here is The Full Open Letter from Model Alliance:
Dear Mr. Mehas,
Model Alliance met with L Brands/Victoria’s Secret five months ago and proposed that the company take concrete steps to change the culture of misogyny and abuse. The company refused to act. L Brands/Victoria’s Secret has refused to make binding commitments to protect models and other workers from harassment by joining the RESPECT program.
We’re writing to you today because the New York Times’ “Angels’ in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret (“The Angels in Hell”) shows that the culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment in Victoria’s Secret is even more blatant and self-rooted than one thinks. The Times reports on repeated complaints about inappropriate behaviour towards models and employees: Body shaming [making fun of someone about their physical appearance] obscene remarks, grabbing, retaliation for refusing advances, unauthorized use of model images, and pressure to pose nude without pay for a photographer’s personal shots. According to Casey Crowe Taylor, a former public relations employee, “we laughed at these abuses and accepted them as normal. . . . And anyone who has tried to do something about it has not just been ignored. They’ve been punished.”
This is deeply troubling but not surprising, as we have seen similar problems many times in our industry. However, the intense reprisals used by Victoria’s Secret to silence those who have denounced wrongdoing are particularly deplorable. Indeed, the Times has called Victoria’s Secret a “case study of the wrong way to deal with allegations of misconduct.”
When Model Alliance met with Tammy Roberts Myers, communications director of L Brands in New York last September, it was clear that Victoria’s Secret did not take these complaints seriously. After that interview, in an email, she wrote to us that Victoria’s Secret was not ready to take concrete steps to address these allegations — the company is simply “learning and listening all the time”.” In the face of last year’s horrific revelations, this response is completely unacceptable. The time for listening is long gone; it’s time for Victoria’s Secret to take steps to protect the people it benefits from. Human rights violations cannot be stopped by a corporate makeover exercise.
We believe this moment may be a wake-up call for Victoria’s Secret. This is an opportunity to take significant steps to end these abuses by joining the RESPECT programme, as requested by the models since December 2018. The RESPECT program — a Model Alliance program — is the only existing accountability program designed by and for models. Under this program, signatory companies undertake to require their employees, agents, vendors, photographers and other contractors to adhere to a code of conduct for the well-being and safety of everyone in the workplace. Models have access to an independent and confidential complaint mechanism, with prompt and fair resolution of complaints and appropriate consequences for abusers. In addition, RESPECT includes a strong prevention-based training program, so that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities.
Model Alliance believes in security, freedom to work without fear of harassment and real consequences for abusers. Victoria’s Secret’s inability to create an environment of responsibility, both internally and in their interactions with its network of agencies and creatives, undermines these values. We envision an area where creative expression flourishes and where everyone can work without fear of harassment or abuse. That’s why we launched the RESPECT program, and we once again urge Victoria’s Secret to join us in creating a safer and fairer fashion industry.
We invite Victoria’s Secret to work with us to resolve these issues and engage in meaningful action by joining the RESPECT Program. We stand with the courageous women who have come forward and shared their stories, despite the fear of reprisals or harm to their careers.
Their stories deserve RESPECT.