Remarks by Sara Ziff -- May 9th, 2018
I am Sara Ziff, a fashion model, filmmaker, and labor activist in the fashion industry. Thank you so much Mayor de Blasio, Council Members, NYC Human Rights Commissioner Malalis and fellow advocates for inviting me today.
As a model who started working at 14-years-old, I can say I’ve had a good career. However, the perceived glamour of my industry has for too long allowed models to be exploited. Even as a teenager who was too young to even vote, I routinely experienced what I now recognize as sexual harassment. Photographers pressured me to pose nude and provide sexual favors.
Some models have been treated like escorts with their agencies sending them to know predators and putting them in compromising situations that no child – no person – should have to deal with.
Too often, models have been treated as objects, and not as legitimate members of the workforce who deserve to be treated with the same dignity, respect and basic legal protections other workers enjoy under employment laws. And this is the reason I founded the Model Alliance. Models often find themselves in a legal limbo between what’s covered under the law or not; for example, whether modeling agencies are considered employment agencies or whether models themselves are even considered employees deserving of the same equal treatment as other employees.
At the Model Alliance, we promote fair treatment, equal opportunity, and sustainable practices in the fashion industry, from the runway to the factory floor. By assisting models and other stakeholders in understanding the laws applicable to them, and by encouraging them to have a voice in their work, the Model Alliance identifies common areas of concern in the fashion industry, conducts strategic research with leading research institutions to inform policy initiatives, and educates the industry and the public about our core issues. This work has led me and my colleagues to work with many of you to clarify grey areas of the law and to push for better policies and legislation to fight workplace harassment and injustice.
I was proud to testify at the Workplace Sexual Harassment Public Hearing by the NYC Commission on Human Rights last December about these issues and I want to acknowledge the bravery of the people who spoke there that night and the wealth of proposals that came out of the testimony, many of which are reflected in the “Stop Sexual Harassment Act” legislation package. The NYC Human Rights Law is one of the broadest and most protective anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws in the country and I am glad NYC keeps using every resource available to expand it and work with advocates like me to truly create change and ensure New Yorkers have access to justice.
The package of legislation that is being signed into law by the Mayor today takes all of us closer to achieving this. It is my hope that enforcing each of these legislations will allow even more voices to be heard and more justice to be reached for workers in many industries.
While the entertainment and fashion industry dominates today’s sexual harassment scandals headlines, we at the Model Alliance know that low-wage workers, immigrant workers and domestic workers experience sexual harassment at high rates, and their unique vulnerabilities make it even harder for them to get help.
Today is a victory for all workers in NYC because starting today all employers, regardless of the number of employees, will have to take sexual harassment more seriously and protect their workers.
I will keep working with the City on ways to better address workplace sexual harassment and how we can hold harassers and those complicit with them accountable.
Thank you so much Mayor de Blasio for all the work you are doing to make New York City a fairer place to work.