British Vogue Agrees to Model Code of Conduct to Improve Working Conditions

The U.K. glossy is the first publication to sign a code of conduct from the model’s union Equity to improve workplace conditions for models.

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Dave M. Benett / Getty Images

(L to R) Alexandra Shulman, Ronnie Newhouse, Jonathan Newhouse, Anna Wintour, Bill Nighy and Hilary Alexander sit in the front row at the Mulberry Autumn/Winter 2012 show during London Fashion Week at Claridge's Hotel on February 19, 2012 in London, England.

The life of a model may seem like it’s all glitz and glamour: getting to wear designer clothes; invites to some of the industry’s most exclusive parties; and for some, even more exposure through partnerships with other companies. But behind a photo shoot, before a photographer’s flash even goes off, there can be an unsettling picture for a model: unfair working conditions.

In a recent article for the Guardian, American model Sara Ziff wrote about the unfair working conditions for herself and other models while working internationally for numerous brands and magazines. Ziff, who founded the non-profit organization Model Alliance to improve working conditions for models, noted that on occasion she has “worked 20-hour days and been admonished for so much as asking to use the toilet.”

In an attempt to govern the treatment of models during photo sessions, British Vogue has signed a new code of conduct on the working conditions of models, becoming the first publication to do so, according to Women’s Wear Daily. The 10-point code was drawn up by the model’s union Equity, which is best known for its representation of actors and actresses.

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The agreement stipulates that models cannot work for more than 10 hours a day, will be fed adequately and will not do nude or seminude shots unless agreed to in advance. Often times models are faced with “surprise” nude shoots, Ziff pointed out.

The code also forbids models under the age of 16 from being photographed for shoots representing adult models, WWD noted. Other points include mandatory breaks – models cannot be expected to work for more than 5 hours without a break – fitting rooms, reimbursement for travel to and from jobs on location, prompt payment for their work, suitable temperatures for clothes being modeled, and workplace insurance.  It also insists that no model should be asked to do anything “dangerous, degrading, unprofessional or demeaning.”

The editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Alexandra Schulman, said the magazine has been working with agencies to educate and mentor young models – some of whom are under 16-years-old – since a health initiative pact was established between 20 international editors of Vogue last year to encourage a healthier approach to body images in the industry.

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But the health initiative, formed by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in January 2007, has yet to really take shape within the fashion industry. There continues to be models walking the runways during fashion weeks who look stick thin. At the Fall/Winter New York Fashion Week in 2012, Diane von Furstenberg, president of the CFDA, said that some progress had been made, but “much work remained to be done,” according to the New York Times.

Prior to the Fall/Winter 2012 NYFW, the CFDA urged its members to insist on seeing identification from models to prove that they were 16 by the time of their shows, as it is against industry guidelines to hire models younger; supply healthy meals on fittings; and provide professional help for those struggling with eating disorders, the Telegraph reported. However, Marc Jacobs caused controversy by sending two underage models down his runway for his Fall/Winter 2012 show. The fashion designer knowingly hired the two models, who are believed to be 14- or 15-years-old at the time. Jacobs told the New York Times, “I do the show the way I think it should be, and not the way somebody tells me it should be.”

It will take time to see whether British Vogue’s signing of the code of conduct will result in improvements for models in the workplace. But Ziff is hopeful that Schulman’s colleagues in the U.S. – like editor-in-chief of American Vogue Anna Wintour – will follow her lead.

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