"I’ve seen the CEO ask young female members of staff to sit on his knee, cuddle him, or let him massage their ears,” one Ted Baker employee reported on the petition platform Organise. “Lots of forced overly long hugs and kisses on the cheek, hand stroking, unsolicited massaging of employees shoulders. I have also heard firsthand accounts of people being asked to sit on his lap or having had their legs stroked under the table in meeting,” said another. In all, there are over 50 recorded accounts from employees at Ted Baker, each of them detailing alleged sexual harassment from the company’s CEO Ray Kelvin.
Over 2,500 people have signed a petition created by staff, calling for reform of Ted Baker’s apparent culture of harassment, which, employees say, has allowed harassment to go unchecked and unchallenged. According to the petition, Kelvin has taken his shirt off in the middle of the office and has offered employees the chance to star in porn films with him. This is alongside the apparently rampant routine harassment of massaging peoples ears, making them sit on his knee and the endless awkward hugs.
The petition shouldn’t come as a surprise to the directors of Ted Baker, as it’s not as though employees at the company have been quiet about their treatment. “Pursuing the issue through the 'proper' channels i.e. Human Resources, is hopelessly ineffective,” reads the petition. “They don't act on the reports.” Another personal account tells of how they went to HR with their complaint of sexual harassment and were told: “That’s just what Ray’s like.” As per most #MeToo revelations, it turns out the victims had been telling their stories for what must have felt like forever. Sometimes, it feels as though we’ve come so far since the Weinstein scandal broke over a year ago, but stories like this prove just how little the world of work has been penetrated by #MeToo.
By going public, the employees of Ted Baker are hoping their directors will finally sit up and listen. They want an independent, external, functioning HR department that won’t throw away their reports of sexual harassment with a sigh and a shrug. One of the most troubling aspect of this news is that Ted Baker’s employees even have to ask for the most basic protections from their employee.
Lots of forced overly long hugs and kisses on the cheek, hand stroking, unsolicited massaging of employees shoulders. I have also heard firsthand accounts of people being asked to sit on his lap or having had their legs stroked under the table in meeting
Various companies have rehashed their sexual harassment and complaints policies in the wake of #MeToo – most notably, Facebook and Google, who will no longer force complainants to settle their cases in private arbitration. However, in the case of Google, the most effective changes in policy came after a mass walkout and employees sent the company a list of five demands calling for transparency and action on sexual-harassment complaints. If The New York Times hadn’t published its expose of serial workplace sexual harasser Andy Rubin, you have to wonder whether the employees would have felt empowered enough to demand such changes.
Ted Baker has said it will conduct an independent investigation and is taking the allegations seriously. As for the “forced” hugs, a spokesperson assured: “Ray greets many people he meets with a hug – be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague. Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon.”
We mustn’t lose sight of the true perpetrator in these revelations – Kelvin was the one allegedly asking women to sit on his knee, massaging their ears, kissing their necks and forcing hugs. In an interview with The Telegraph, back in 2013, Kelvin spoke openly about the people that work for him, praising the “hug culture” he had built within the company. “It was about how can we make this the best? How can we care for people? How can we make the best food? How could we do the best massage? You know, we have tried so hard to make this a fun place and a fun environment for young, up-and-coming, creative business people,” he said – a comment that, if the stories are to be believed, sits uncomfortably. When in public, Kelvin hides behind shoes, behind signs, behind anything that obscures his face so he is unrecognisable because, he says, he is “an ugly bugger” – another feature of his personality that, once, would have seemed quirky, but now feels dishonest and sly. Thanks to the 200-plus employees who have spoken out, it seems, ironically, he may have been exposed.
Ted Baker say there is a 24/7 helpline for employees to file all complaints, alongside a “wide range” of other methods of reporting. But is this enough? If the CEO isn’t held accountable by the people employed to do exactly that, who is making sure the HR department are doing their job? Do we need a specific complaints system just for sexual harassment? These are just some of the many questions brought to the fore, as the #MeToo movement sweeps through our workplaces, and we’re still unclear as to the answers. Perhaps now that Ted Baker shares have fallen by 13%, since the petition was published, someone with the power to initiate change will start listening.