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Top lawyers tell high-street shops to ‘lose the lads’ mags’

Press release from UK Feminista and Object

Top lawyers tell high-street shops to ‘lose the lads’ mags’

Supermarkets and newsagents open to legal action from staff and customers

A group of Britain’s top lawyers have joined forces with UK Feminista and Object (1) to warn supermarkets and newsagents to ‘lose the lads’ mags’ – or risk possible legal action. In an open letter (2) set to have dramatic implications for retailers and the lads’ mags industry as a whole, lawyers reveal that shops selling and displaying lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images are vulnerable to legal action from both staff and customers. The revelation comes as UK Feminista and Object announce a national campaign targeting major retailers over their continued sale of lads mags (3).

New legal advice obtained by campaigners (4) reveals that displaying and selling lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images can constitute sexual harassment or sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Employees could take action on this basis and, where the magazine is visibly on display, customers could also have a claim.

The scale of legal exposure for British retailers is extensive. Lads Mags are sold in all major high-street supermarkets. The ‘big four’ supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – together operate over 5000 UK stores and employ approximately 782,000 people in the UK (5). WH Smith, another major lads mag retailer, operates over 1200 stores which are visited by over 73% of the UK population every year (6).

There is legal precedence of women working in other industries successfully suing their employers after being exposed to pornography at work. UK Feminista and Object have obtained reports from women working in retail that they object to stocking, handling, looking at and selling lads’ mags and newspapers with pornographic images on the front page:

  • A female employee in a south London branch of one of the ‘big four’ supermarkets said: “It’s ridiculous that they sell these magazines… these magazines definitely affect how men treat women and say disturbing things on how to satisfy women and pressures on the men.”
  • A woman working in a north London supermarket said:“I’d prefer them not to be sold where I work. It displays the wrong image towards customers.”
  • A woman, 45, shopping in a south London branch of Tesco said:”Tesco make enough money- they don’t need to sell this stuff. Magazines like this should not be in a supermarket and Tesco should know better than to sell them.”

 

Kat Banyard, Director of UK Feminista, said:
“Lads mags aren’t just a bit of harmless fun. By portraying women as sex objects they fuel sexist attitudes and behaviours. It is a national scandal that the ‘big four’ supermarkets and high-street shops like WH Smiths stock these sexist publications. By selling lads mags, companies like Tesco and WH Smith are normalising the idea that it is acceptable to treat women like sex objects. The good news is that customers and employees don’t have to put up with it any more. Legally as well as ethically, lads’ mags are well past their sell by date. The writing’s on the wall for retailers: lose the lads’ mags or you could end up in court.”

Sophie Bennett, Campaigns Officer for Object, said:
“Lads’ mags dehumanise and objectify women, promoting harmful attitudes that underpin discrimination and violence against women and girls. Reducing women to sex objects sends out an incredibly dangerous message that women are constantly sexually available and displaying these publications in everyday spaces normalises this sexism. It is unacceptable that major retailers continue to expose staff and customers to such sexist and degrading material. It’s time we saw an end to Lads’ mags in shops and the very real harms to women that result!”

Anna Mazzola, an associate at Bindmans LLP, said:
“The problem with this material is that people cannot avoid being confronted with it, whether they are customers who rely on the shops where it is sold, children accompanying them, or the employees obliged to sell it. The companies that own those shops should be aware that their legal position is precarious – making employees handle and sell these magazines will, in some circumstances, amount to unlawful sexual discrimination or harassment.”

 

ENDS

 
Notes to editors
1.    UK Feminista supports women and men to take action for gender equality. Formed in  2010, the organisation has rapidly become one of the UK’s leading feminist organisations and a powerful mobilising force. www.ukfeminista.org.uk
Object is an award-winning human rights organisation that campaigns against the sexual objectification of women and girls in the media and popular culture. www.object.org.uk

2. The full letter text is published in the Guardian on 27/5/13. It is signed by Aileen McColgan, Matrix Chambers; Sarah Ricca, Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors; Mike Schwarz, Bindmans; Harriet  Wistrich, Birnberg Peirce & Partners; Anna Mazzola, Bindmans; Helen Mountfield, Matrix Chambers; Elizabeth Prochaska, Matrix Chambers; Tamsin Allen, Bindmans; Gwendolen Morgan, Bindmans; Salima Budhani, Bindmans; Nathalie Lieven QC, Landmark Chambers; Samantha Mangwana, Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP; Julie Morris, Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP; and Emma Hawksworth, Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP.

3.  The ‘Lose the Lads’ Mags’ campaign, launched today, calls on retailers to stop selling lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images. The campaign will see activists targeting major retailers of lads’ mags over the coming months. The campaign is set to announce its first target within the next week. www.losetheladsmags.org.uk, #losetheladsmags

The biggest selling lads mags include:

  • Nuts: first published in 2004, circulation figure for second half of 2012 – 80186  http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/mag-abcs-digital-success-balances-print-decline-mens-health-and-t3
  • Zoo: first published in 2004, circulation figure for second half of 2012 – 44068
  • FHM: first published in 1985 as ‘For Him’, circulation figure for second half of 2012 – 114677
  • Loaded: first published in 1994, circulation figure for second half of 2011 – 34,505 http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/feb/16/knocked-out-loaded-mag-sales-drop

4.  Legal advice provided to UK Feminista and Object by Aileen McColgan, a barrister at Matrix Chambers, states:

“The display of pornography and “lads mags” is capable of amounting to sexual harassment as defined by the Equality Act 2010: “unwanted conduct … of a sexual nature” that has … the “effect [even if not the purpose] of violating [a worker’s] dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her [or him]”….. Requiring employees to work with pornographic material may amount to indirect discrimination connected with sex, and/or with religion or belief (including a belief in gender equality).”

“…unwanted exposure to pornographic material, whether in the capacity of worker or customer, is capable of giving rise to a legal claim under the Equality Act. This is because workers and those who access goods and services (including by visiting a shop) are protected under the Equality Act in respect not only from sex discrimination but also from sexual harassment which consists of “unwanted conduct” which is either “related to sex” or which is “of a sexual nature”, which conduct…”has the purpose or effect of violating [the complainant’s] dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for [the complainant]”. The provision of the Act which applies in respect of customers is s29 which provides: “(3) A service-provider must not, in relation to the provision of the service, harass… (b) a person to whom the service-provider provides the service”.”

A summary of the legal advice relating to the sale and display of lads mags, provided by Aileen McColgan – Matrix Chambers, is available on request: kat@ukfeminista.org.uk

5.  Number of employees and UK stores operated by the ‘big four’ supermarkets:

  • Tesco: 3146 stores, over 300,000 employees (http://www.tescoplc.com/index.asp?pageid=8&panel=1#panel1)
  • Asda: over 400 stores, nearly 200,000 employees (http://www.asda.jobs/stores/about-our-stores/)
  • Sainsbury’s: over 1000 stores, 150,000 employees (http://www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/about-us/)
  • Morrisons: over 500 stores (http://www.morrisons-corporate.com/About-us/Our-Stores/), 132,000 employees (http://www.morrisons-corporate.com/About-us/Company-history/)

6. http://www.whsmithplc.co.uk/about_whsmith/key-facts/

Top lawyers tell high-street shops to ‘lose the lads’ mags’

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