Advocates for models’ labor rights can put another feather in their Saint Laurent cap today, as British Vogue has just announced that they’ve signed a 10-point code of conduct with UK trade union Equity to govern their treatment of models.
While the magazine is already part of the Vogue Health Initiative, which prevents them from knowingly hiring models under the age of 16 or whom they suspect of having an eating disorder, the Equity code limits work days to 10 hours and stipulates that sufficient breaks and food be provided throughout.
Transportation is also a part of the deal now — an important proviso for location shoots — and shoots are required to have adequate changing and bathroom facilities. Furthermore, models are required to give informed consent for nude and semi-nude shoots. After the shoot is all wrapped up, the magazine is responsible for paying the model promptly and in full. All of which seems like common sense, right? Unfortunately, damning studies and firsthand reports indicate that this has been far from the case in years past.
British Vogue’ actions are just the latest instance of the long-neglected issue of labor laws within the modeling industry being brought to the forefront recently, thanks in part to online scrutiny, public pressure, and the hard work of The Model Alliance, the advocacy organization founded last year by model-turned-activist Sara Ziff.
In a blog post for the Guardian, Ziff commends editor Alexandra Shulman and British Vogue for their support, but drives home the message that still more needs to be done, especially here in the United States:
In New York, for example, child models are excluded from most of the protections afforded to other child performers including actors, dancers, and singers, leaving them vulnerable to exactly the kind of exploitation that Equity’s agreement explicitly prohibits.
More generally, in the US models are treated as independent contractors, rendering them unable to unionise, and ineligible for protection against minimum wage violations or sexual harassment.
The actions being taken in the UK are a step in the right direction, to be sure. We just hope Vogue stands by their word in upholding the code of conduct. After all, they should be the ones leading the rest of the industry — and the industry definitely shouldn’t be waiting on, as Ziff says, “a labour force of minors who know they are highly replaceable,” to be the only ones speaking up for change.