American fashion giant Abercrombie & Fitch is in trouble over its hiring policy once again! France’s official human rights watchdog has announced that it is investigating claims that A&F only employ good looking people at its flagship store in Paris. This, they believe, may amount to discrimination. The Defenseur des Droits watchdog cited in particular a 2006 interview with website salon.com in which Chief Executive Mike Jeffries said the company hires good-looking people to attract good-looking customers.
Known for its attractive, often topless, hosts at the entrance to the store, Abercrombie & Fitch have been in trouble with both US and UK authorites in the past over its hiring policies. In 2009 an English court found in favour of Riam Dean who accused the company of “hiding” her in a stockroom at a London outlet because her prosthetic arm didn’t fit with its “look policy”.
“Though physical appearance may legitimately be a key and determining professional factor for models, that’s not so for sales staff,” the head of the watchdog, Dominique Baudis, said in a statement.
So, is it acceptable for brands to expect a certain standard of attractiveness from employees? Is it necessary for the creative, business and sales personnel to be beautiful too? Sales staff are the face of the brand and we suspect Abercrombie will argue that modelling the clothes is part of the job. All staff wear Abercrombie on the shop floor, and, let’s face it, a pasty and paunchy topless host at the door is unlikely to have the same magnetic pull as the current tanned and toned gentlemen that smile at us from the shop’s doorway. Is it unreasonable that the company wish to showcase their clothing in the most flattering light? If staff are discrimianted based on race or, like in Dean’s case, disability, this is sufficient for a discrimination challenge. But is ‘ugly’ really something we want to give legal protection to? We’re not so sure that protecting conventionally ugly people or offensively linking that condition to a disability is the direction we want to see our legal system heading.
Abercrombie aren’t the only company in trouble for ‘lookism’. Back in May we reported that Prada employee Rina Bovrisse had taken an action against the luxury brand’s Japanese branch. She sued the company after Prada Japan CEO David Sesia reportedly demoted or dismissed female staff members who he deemed to be “old, fat, ugly, disgusting, or did not have the Prada look”. However, in this instance, the requirement was only for woman and not men – which amounts to sexual discrimination. Abercrombie appear to apply their hiring policies to both female and male staff.
The watchdog aims to wrap up its investigation by the end of the year, after which it can make recommendations to the company if proof of discrimination is found. A lawsuit cannot be brought in the absence of someone who says they were the victim of discrimination.