Change for Model Labor Laws

STORY BY Emily Kirkpatrick

Published: July 14, 2013

Earlier this week, supermodels and founding members of the Model Alliance, Sara Ziff and Coco Rocha, joined together with New York state senators Diane Savino and Jeff Klein to propose legislation that would protect models under the age of 18 under an expansion of the same child-labor laws used to protect children dancers, actors and performers.

The bill has passed both houses of the New York State legislature and now only needs the governor’s signature, potentially passing as early as next week. Up until this point, models have been treated as an exception to these labor laws, as they’re put in their own category and considered to be working as independent contractors rather than employees. Child models are also rarely held to the same Education Department requirements enforced by the state’s Department of Labor as other young performers are.

In a press conference held outside Lincoln Center, Model Alliance members spoke out about their own experiences in the industry and some of the disastrous effects it can have on young girls. New models, who have been known to work for high profile labels as young as 12, are susceptible to all sorts of toxic incluences. From photographers pressuring girls to do things they’re uncomfortable with, to dropping pounds and dropping out of school. If this bill were to pass, it would mean a radical shift in the way models are treated and the fashion industry is run. It would guarantee safe, healthy and regulated work environments for young girls and guarantee them a decent living wage. Because although models may seem like they make extravagant amounts of money, unless you’re one of the top working models in the world, most models find themselves living in cramped apartments with lots of other struggling girls, digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt with their agencies.

Under the proposed expansion of this legislation, models would become entitled to a number of basic child labor rights. Children models will have to have a work permit, and employers will have to apply for a general certificate of eligibility to employ child performers and then notify the state of the specific dates, times and locations where the child will be working beforehand.  The number of hours a child model can work will also become restricted by law. Child performers are required to have breaks, including meals, and cannot be sent home after midnight on school nights or asked to work again less than twelve hours after they’ve left. Educational laws will also come into play, requiring children have study time and if they’re made to miss more than three days of school will have a tutor provided by the employer. Every model under the age of 18 will be accompanied by a chaperone to all jobs and fifteen percent of their gross earnings will go into a trust account.

This proposed legislation would give young, predominantly underage, women some of the basic human and labor rights most employees take for granted. With this landmark tightening of regulations on young girls who have been praised and exploited by fashion for their pre-pubescent bodies, perhaps the response will be an equally colossal shift in the industry’s perception of beauty, body shape and age. Suddenly, those 19-year-old girls with actual hips who were once considered to be in the winding-down phase of their careers, may not look quite so unappealing.

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