Last week, a Times investigation exposed a “an entrenched culture of misogyny” at Victoria’s Secret, and fallout for the lingerie brand continues.
On Wednesday morning, the Model Alliance, a group that advocates for rights for models, composed an open letter urging the company to do better. The letter was signed by over 100 models, as well as TIME’S UP.
The Model Alliance petitioned Victoria’s Secret to better protect its models against sexual misconduct last August. The following month, the advocacy group met with Tammy Roberts Myers, chief communications officer of Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands. According to the letter, the Model Alliance claims that the meeting made it “abundantly clear that Victoria’s Secret does not take these complaints seriously.” So now, in light of the Times expose, the Alliance is once again urging Victoria’s Secret to join its RESPECT Program, which requires a binding commitment from companies and their employees to follow a specific code of conduct.
In a statement to the Cut on behalf of L Brands, Roberts Myers wrote: “We absolutely share a common goal with Model Alliance to ensure the safety and wellbeing of models.” The statement also points to the company’s own “robust” photo-shoot procedures, which were implemented in May 2019 and updated in August. According to the statement, these procedures “reflect elements of the RESPECT Program and beyond.”
“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made and remain committed to continuous improvement,” the statement continued. “We’re always open to engage with those looking to make improvements in the industry.”
The Model Alliance letter has been co-signed by leading names in the industry such as Amber Valetta, Christy Turlington Burns, Gemma Ward, Iskra Lawrence, and Karen Elson. Alison Nix and Alyssa Miller, who are both quoted in the Times expose, are also co-signers. Industry supporters have also signed the letter, including photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Amanda de Cadenet, Anastasia Garcia, and Zoe Ghertner. Clearly, they still don’t feel that Victoria’s Secret is doing enough.
Read the Model Alliance’s open letter to Victoria’s Secret in full, below.
John Mehas, CEO
Victoria’s Secret LLC
Three Limited Parkway
Columbus, Ohio 43230
Dear Mr. Mehas,
The Model Alliance met with L Brands/Victoria’s Secret five months ago and proposed that the company take concrete action to change its culture of misogyny and abuse. The company refused to act. L Brands/Victoria’s Secret declined to make binding commitments to protect models and other workers from harassment by joining the RESPECT Program.
We write today because the New York Times investigative report “‘Angels’ in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret,” shows that the culture of misogyny, bullying, and harassment at Victoria’s Secret is even more egregious and more entrenched than previously understood. The Times reports repeated complaints of inappropriate conduct towards models and employees: Body shaming, lewd remarks, crotch-grabbing, retaliation for rebuffing advances, unauthorized use of models’ images, and pressures to pose nude without pay for a photographer’s personal shoots. According to Casey Crowe Taylor, a former public relations employee, “This abuse was just laughed off and accepted as normal […] And anyone who tried to do anything about it wasn’t just ignored. They were punished.” This is deeply disturbing but not surprising, as we have seen similar issues many times throughout our industry. However, the intense retaliation used by Victoria’s Secret to silence those who reported misconduct is particularly deplorable. Indeed, The Times called Victoria’s Secret “a case study in the wrong way to deal with allegations of misconduct.”
When the Model Alliance met with Tammy Roberts Myers, Chief Communications Officer of L Brands in New York City last September, it was made abundantly clear that Victoria’s Secret does not take these complaints seriously. In a follow-up email she told us that Victoria’s Secret was not ready to take any concrete steps towards addressing these allegations - rather, the company is simply, “in the process of continued learning and listening”. In the face of the horrifying revelations from the past year, this response is utterly unacceptable. The time for listening is long past; it’s time for Victoria’s Secret to take action to protect the people they profit from. Human rights violations can’t be stopped with a corporate rebranding exercise.
We believe that this moment can be a wake-up call for Victoria’s Secret. This is an opportunity to take meaningful steps towards ending these abuses by joining the RESPECT Program, as models have called for since December 2018. The RESPECT Program—a program of the Model Alliance—is the only existing accountability program designed by and for models. Under the Program, signatory companies make a binding commitment to require their employees, agents, vendors, photographers and other contractors to follow a code of conduct that protects everyone’s safety on the job. Models have access to an independent, confidential complaint mechanism, with swift and fair resolution of complaints and appropriate consequences for abusers. Further, RESPECT includes a robust training program aimed toward prevention, to ensure that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities.
The Model Alliance believes in safety, freedom to work without fear of harassment, and real consequences for abusers. Victoria’s Secret’s failure to create an environment of accountability, both in-house and in their interactions with a network of agencies and creatives, undermines these values. We envision an industry in which creative expression flourishes and everyone can work without fear of harassment or abuse. This is why we launched the RESPECT Program, and are again urging Victoria’s Secret to join us in creating a safer, more equitable fashion industry.
We invite Victoria’s Secret to work together with us to address these problems, and to engage in meaningful action by joining the RESPECT Program. We stand with the courageous women who have come forward and shared their stories, despite fears of retaliation or harm to their careers.
Their stories deserve RESPECT. Join us.