As models continue to spread awareness surrounding sexual abuse within the fashion industry, strict policies have yet to be addressed or implemented. A photographer accused of misconduct can be dropped by longtime clients, or colleagues can show disapproval through a social media post, but where is the official, industry-wide enforcement? On Wednesday, the Model Alliance announced the launch of its "Respect Program," a legally-binding agreement that will protect models against sexual harassment, as well as provide a blueprint to create safe working environments for everyone involved.
"Every company in our industry says it abhors sexual harassment and wants to protect those at risk of abuse," states an open letter on Respect Program's official website. "We believe that if a company is serious about protecting us, it will be willing to go beyond mere premises to do better and embrace enforceable standards, with real teeth. Together, we will enable a working environment in which creative collaboration and self-expression flourishes, and everyone can work without fear of harassment, abuse, discrimination or violence."
Specifically addressed to members of the fashion industry, the open letter boasts more than 100 signatures from top models, including Karen Elson, Teddy Quinlivan, Milla Jovovich, Doutzen Kroes and Edie Campbell.
The new program will call for a Code of Conduct. "In the case of serious or repeated violations of the Code by a photographer or other service provider, publishing companies and fashion brands will be required to no longer work with that individual," the letter continues. "Participating fashion brands and publishing companies will give business preference to other participants that are signatories to the Program."
Required training sessions will further educate industry professionals (companies, contractors and all other staff members) on how to provide safe working spaces for models. Not only will these trainings highlight sexual harassment, but also health and wellness standards, such as eating disorders, nutrition and substance abuse.
Transparency will also be heavily executed by those involved with Respect Program. Workplaces will be monitored and models will be provided safe, confidential and accessible ways to file complaint of harassments. This also applies to models' incomes, as businesses must be responsible to provide payments fairly and on time.
"Companies where abuses have been exposed — in Hollywood, the news media, in manufacturing — have had rules in place for decades, yet harassment continues," says Professor Suzanne Goldberg of Columbia University Law School, who served as an expert on workplace harassment to consult on the program's design, in an official statement. "We know from this experience that voluntary standards and corporate self-policing don't work. Real change requires enforceable standards and independent oversight."
Adds Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff: "It is not enough to fire one or another famous abuser. Ending harassment requires a comprehensive solution."
Respect Program is the Model Alliance's latest effort to provide models with more power and legal ownership over their bodies and careers. In 2017, the organization worked with New York State assemblywoman Nily Rozic to help coordinate and introduce a new law — the "Models' Harassment Protection Act" — to the legislation.
In the coming weeks, Respect Program will be presented to major corporations within the fashion industry, including luxury brands and fashion houses, media companies and modeling agencies.