New York increases protections for young models with child labor law
A New York law signed by the governor on Monday is set to increase protections for young models and restrict the use of teenagers on runways at New York Fashion Week, giving them the same protections as minors who act, dance and play music professionally.
"We might actually have the novel experience of having grown women modeling women's clothes at New York Fashion week," said Susan Scafidi of Fordham University in New York and a board member of The Model Alliance advocacy group.
She said the increased regulation could push some designers to favor older models, because the bill requires employers to provide nurses for the young models and places limits on how many hours a young model can work, how late they can work and how often they can be used.
Employers that violate these laws face fines starting at $1,000 for the first violation and up to $3,000 for the third. After that, they can lose the privilege to employ child models.
"The real sanction is the headline,” Scafidi said. “No one wants to be the fashion house that is stuck in the headline: ‘So-and-so violates child labor laws.’"
Models are in a unique working environment because they are hired as independent contractors and therefore do not get the standard protections of traditional employees. "They are a very vulnerable population in a very unregulated market,” said Scafidi.
It is typical for a model’s career to start before age 18, but in New York, these models have never been subject to the same laws used for other child performers.
"This is really going to change the perspective of the industry,” said Scafidi. “Most people will want to comply; they won't want to be the person in the next story."
The US fashion industry has recently shown an interest in favoring older models. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, a prominent US fashion industry group, recommended members use models 16 and older on the runway in January 2012 as part of its health initiative.
The same week these guidelines were issued, however, designer Marc Jacobs knowingly hired two young women, believed to be 14 or 15, for his New York Fashion Week show.
Condé Nast International said in May 2012 that all editions of Vogue would stop using models under the age of 16 – though some believe model Ondria Hardin was under 16 when she was featured in Vogue China’s August 2012 issue.
Under the New York law, people who employ models will have to provide them with the same support they would receive at school and will have to adhere to more strict compensation rules. This includes providing a nurse, not allowing young models to work past midnight on school nights, and creating a trust fund-like restricted bank account that holds 15% of a model’s earnings.
The bill was sponsored by two Democratic state senators and supported by the Model Alliance, which promotes better working conditions in the US modeling industry. The group is also pushing the industry to address sexual harassment claims, create more transparent accounting processes and provide better access to health care.
The state legislature passed the law in June and New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on Monday night. It will take effect in 30 days.