British Vogue Really Promises to Treat Models Like Human Beings

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Photo: Vogue

On Monday, Equity (the U.K. trade union for actors, stage managers, and models) announced British Vogue had signed its "Ten Point Code of Conduct for the treatment of Models during photoshoots in studios and on location." From a press release:

Models hired by British Vogue for editorial work will now get assurances on hours of work, breaks, food, transport, nudity and semi-nudity, temperature, changing rooms and prompt payment. British Vogue readers can also be assured that all models in Vogue's editorial are employed in line with the Code, and additionally that models under 16 years of age will not be used in photoshoots representing adult models.

While that's a fair synopsis of the agreement, some of the wording in the document is, well, dark.

"It is expected that the Model shall not be required to work for more than five consecutive hours without a break of sufficient length for rest and refreshment, and that within a four hour working period at least one short break of no less than 15 minutes will be provided."

From point 4. Respect and dignity: "No one will ask or impose upon the Model any action or activity which is dangerous, degrading, unprofessional or demeaning to the model."

"A studio location will be kept well ventilated and reasonably warm in winter and reasonably cool in summer, and at all times consideration will be given to what the Model is required to wear and for temperatures to be adjusted accordingly."

"At the end of the contract period the Model will be paid promptly and in any event in accordance with the agreed payment terms."

But then there's Dunja Knezevic, a working model and current chair of Equity's models committee, to lift our spirits. She hopes that, heeding Vogue U.K.'s example, "other magazines and publishing houses, retailers and designers will also understand the importance of protecting models in the workplace, [and] sign up to the Code."

For now, though, it seems that Vogue has had trouble keeping its own pacts. Last May, Condé Nast International introduced a six-point Health Initiative, adopted by editors of all nineteen international versions of the magazine, which read, "We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder." (It also focused on mentoring, improving backstage conditions, and reducing the number of late nights at work.) Come fall, the Health Initiative had its first pair of perps: Vogue China which shot then-15-year-old Ondria Hardin for its August edition and Vogue Japan which reportedly photographed then-14-year-old Thairine Garcia for an editorial reported to run in its December issue. Supposedly, Hardin's story was put together before the Health Initiative announcement, and, "It happened under our radar, and we are truly sorry. We will make sure it doesn't happen again," editor-in-chief Angelica Cheung said. Garcia's story never made it to the newsstand.

The Health Initiative didn't seem to inspire "other magazines and publishing houses, retailers and designers" (to use Knezevic's phrase) to treat models differently — maybe British Vogue's partnership with Equity, an outside organization, can, by establishing a platform for support. Editor Alexandra Shulman previously highlighted the uselessness of these pacts without industrywide backing when asked about 10-year-old Romeo Beckham's Burberry advertisement running in her mag. She tweeted, "To clarify Vogue no under sixteen model ban is in pages of our magazine. We don't control runways or advertising." See — it's a group effort guys, and we're all adults here. The Code makes sure of it.