A group of Britain’s top lawyers have joined forces with UK Feminista and Object to warn supermarkets and newsagents to ‘lose the lads’ mags’ – or risk possible legal action. In an open letter 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.
New legal advice obtained by campaigners 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. WH Smith, another major lads mag retailer, operates over 1200 stores which are visited by over 73% of the UK population every year.
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.” Read more
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