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Will a union help fashion models?
Some British fashion models, allegedly including a few big names, are attempting to join a trade union to improve their working conditions. Many models are tired of having to conform to excessive thinness requirements, long working hours without breaks, often having little chance to eat between photo shoots, being made to sign unfair contracts, being exposed to hazards such as body paint and peroxide, and feeling unable to opt out of nude photo shoots because of fear of losing work.
Relevant passages from the report:
"Models have no voice; no one is listening to them and no one is asking them what they want," said Martin Brown, an Equity spokesman who has been involved in the negotiations with the models since the spring. He said: "We were approached earlier this year by a group of models who said they needed a union. They complained they had no one to represent them and that if something went wrong and they went to their agencies they were warned not to complain because they would not work again." Union membership would be the first attempt by those employed inside the fashion world to force the industry into adopting clearer and fairer working rights for thousands of models.
A fashion source said: "Some of those who want to set up the union are really quite big household names. But at the same time they are understandably a little uncomfortable about coming out in public just yet because of the prevailing view in the industry that models should keep quiet if they want to continue working."
Here is the reaction of Magali Amadei, an ex-fashion model and co-author of 5 resolutions to transform the fashion and beauty industries:
As I wrote about during New York Fashion Week, a union is exactly the kind of shake-up that needs to happen in the industry, and it's probably the only thing that will result in real rights and protections. Models (most of whom are very young and eager to please) face harsh working conditions and unhealthy pressures within a system where there is zero accountability. A union could change that--if enough models were willing to take the risk and join. We are working to organize a meeting in the U.S. If you're interested in getting involved, please get in touch [5resolutions [@] insidebeauty.org] . There is strength in numbers!
I feel sorry for these models. They have worked with numerous fashion designers, been made to starve by them, and they haven’t figured out why they have to be so thin. And now they think of unionizing. How much would it help? Consider the issue of Wal-Mart, easily with a million-plus employees (U.S.). Wal-Mart does not allow its employees to unionize and pays the vast majority of them pathetically; it also outsources many American jobs and brings down wages in the U.S. Why don’t the trade unions do anything about this? Why don’t the trade unions do anything about Home Depot, which treats its employees in a similar manner? Why did the United Auto Workers describe the sale of Chrysler to a New York Venture fund as good when what this group is going to do should be obvious: slash American jobs, outsource many others and give us an American car made in China? And, the venture group has undoubtedly come up with a financial swindle to buy Chrysler in the first place. So what is going on? The union leaders have been put up there and are well paid by the very people who exploit the workers. What are the odds that the fashion models would end up with genuine unions in New York and London?
Magali talks about the Screen Actors Guild successfully securing better rights for actors. However, models are a different matter. If most actors strike, they can’t just be replaced by desperate people from poor nations because there will be an accent problem; the foreigners couldn’t be made to acquire a native accent within a reasonable amount of time, if at all. Models don’t have to act. Fashion designers are already using a majority of fashion models from impoverished nations. These poor models are unlikely to complain since they are glad to get any work, and there are plenty of them; the complainants, if any, can be safely dropped.
What will work? Start with educating the public about the proper 5 resolutions and force the industry to prove that models below certain age-appropriate BMI thresholds are healthy and not starving. Fashion models shouldn’t bother with a union unless they are willing to thoroughly investigate the people who will be administering it.
Here are the words of the Equity trade union group approached by the British models:
Equity said it was hoping to set up a committee of models to introduce basic minimum working standards.
"We want to work in partnership with the industry, not in confrontation," said Mr. Brown.
"We won't be able to insist on people signing up to these basic standards but we should make a pretty powerful lobby."
Yeah, right! Basic/minimum working standards were proposed by the fashion industry under pressure after the malnutrition-related deaths of Ana Carolina Reston and Luisel Ramos (her sister Eliana Ramos also died later of malnutrition). Apart from Italy and some unimportant nations where the government intervened, what happened? Hardly anything. In early November, 2007, another fashion models, Hila Elmalich, died of anorexia.