Our Founding Director, Sara Ziff, releases the following statement in light of the new Code of Conduct issued by Condé Nast.
As Condé Nast has acknowledged, sexual harassment and assault of models is a serious and chronic problem that must be addressed. In turn, the company has introduced a Code of Conduct that aims to prevent such abuse. This is a start, but will it be enough?
Condé Nast’s new Code is an internal corporate policy that takes some important steps. At the same time, it is imperative to be clear that policy changes alone will not change the industry’s culture or empower vulnerable individuals to come forward with complaints.
We have seen codes of conduct come and go. In reality, voluntary standards without meaningful education, proper complaint mechanisms, and independent enforcement are not going to work. We know this because corporations all across the U.S. – in the fashion industry, the film industry, and far beyond – have had corporate-controlled policies to address sexual harassment for many years, and they have not solved the problem.
The key will be in what happens next. How will Condé Nast make this meaningful? Real and lasting change will involve significant effort and engagement on the ground and at every level of the business – not just by working inside the company, but also by working with experts in the field and stakeholders across the industry. A serious effort to prevent sexual misconduct requires a combination of the following:
- Strong standards for contractors, which models, photo assistants, and other contractors themselves play a central role in developing.
- Robust monitoring of compliance with those standards by a body that is independent of the corporations involved.
- A mechanism for individuals facing harassment to file complaints with that body and for those complaints to be investigated promptly and impartially.
- Severe and certain consequences for photographers and any other contractors who violate the standards, up to and including losing the right to do business with participating media companies and fashion brands.
- A program of education for all parties, so everyone understands the rules and their rights and responsibilities.
- Commitments from corporations like Condé Nast – to uphold the standards, respect the results of investigations, and provide funding for the operations of the independent monitor – that are binding and enforceable, not voluntary, so the corporations cannot drag their feet, or walk away when media interest ebbs.
We must move expeditiously to put an end to harassment and abuse in our industry. Sexual harassment is a supply chain risk, and reducing such risks is in the interest every corporation, particularly those that hire vulnerable young people and trade in sexualized imagery. Now is the time to take the necessary steps toward meaningful and lasting change.
The Model Alliance is developing a program that guarantees dignity and respect, a program in which businesses and industry groups can openly commit themselves to workplaces free of abuse. Learn more about this effort here.