Within the fashion industry, there has always been persistent undercurrents of unfair employment practices and even exploitation. The modelling profession is a very competitive industry, however with the working lives of many models being short, this has allowed a culture of unfair employment practices to develop. Earlier this year, there was a well-publicised class action lawsuit of around $100 million made in the State of New York alleging unfair practises against some of the largest model management companies including Major Model Management and MC2 Model Management.
However a lot of work has been done over recent years to improve the working conditions of models and the models themselves have been at the forefront of this, by forming collective organisations to educate and to collectively bargain to better protect their rights-examples include Equity Model Network in the UK formed in 2010 and Model Alliance in the US founded in 2012.
Models traditionally work through a modelling agency, though in recent years there has been a trend towards freelancing driven in part by social media which has made it easier for an individual to build a career. Many modelling agencies encounter problems such as problems with the contracts which include unreasonable restrictive covenants such as non-compete clauses which disproportionately tie-down a model to a particular agency limiting his or her ability to find work. Other examples include contractual terms whereby if the model adds 2 cm to their waist the agency will no longer find work for them, or requirements for models to visit the agency once a week to examine whether they had gained or lost weight.
The last two examples are particularly poignant as many models leaving the industry have flat-out alleged that the agencies actively condoned un-healthy eating practices. Times are changing as evidenced by the healthy body image campaign run by Vogue in collaboration with Elite Model Management, which sought to address these cultural issues as well as educate the industry on the use of these onerous restrictive covenants.
An inherent problem with freelancing is that by its nature models are alone and without the support of a wider organisation. Freelancers (particularly those establishing their name) encounter difficulties themselves such as excessively long working hours and a general lack of respect and dignity.
So what needs be done to improve the situation? Those working in the industry to improve rights have fought tirelessly for:
- a maximum 10 hour working day
- nudity and semi-nudity to be agreed on in advance
- long lasting change to appearance to be agreed on in advance
- private changing areas
Education is the best way to improve conditions throughout the industry and this is a movement that we are currently seeing.