COULD THE ‘BRI­TISH #METOO’ SCAN­DAL SPARK THE END OF GAGGING OR­DERS?

Grazia (UK) - - 10 Hot Stories -

LAST WEEK SAW a land­mark mo­ment in what has been dubbed the ‘Bri­tish #Metoo scan­dal’, when Sir Philip Green was named in the House of Lords as the lead­ing busi­ness­man ac­cused by em­ploy­ees of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and racism. Us­ing par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege, an an­cient right that grants mem­bers le­gal im­mu­nity, Lord Pe­ter Hain broke a court or­der pre­vent­ing Sir Philip from be­ing iden­ti­fied.

Sir Philip has said: ‘ To the ex­tent that it is sug­gested that I have been guilty of un­law­ful sex­ual or racist be­hav­iour, I cat­e­gor­i­cally and wholly deny th­ese al­le­ga­tions… Ar­ca­dia and I take ac­cu­sa­tions and griev­ances from em­ploy­ees very se­ri­ously and in the event that one is raised, it is thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated… Ar­ca­dia em­ploys more than 20,000 peo­ple and, in com­mon with many large busi­nesses, some­times re­ceives for­mal com­plaints from em­ploy­ees… In some cases th­ese are set­tled with the agree­ment of all par­ties and their le­gal ad­vis­ers. Th­ese set­tle­ments are con­fi­den­tial, so I can­not com­ment fur­ther on them.’

The Court of Ap­peal had granted Sir Philip – who spent al­most £500,000 keep­ing his iden­tity a se­cret – a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion against The Daily Tele­graph from pub­lish­ing al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct made by five em­ploy­ees about a fig­ure the news­pa­per de­scribed as a ‘lead­ing busi­ness­man’. Staff had signed non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments in re­turn for a pay-off.

The nam­ing of the Top­shop owner could now spell the end of con­tro­ver­sial ‘gagging or­ders’ that can be used to pre­vent vic­tims speak­ing out about abuse, some­thing that was used reg­u­larly by Har­vey We­in­stein prior to his down­fall.

A year ago, We­in­stein was ex­posed as a bully and al­leged rapist who rou­tinely si­lenced his vic­tims with non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments (NDAS). It was only the brav­ery of women such as ac­tress Rose Mcgowan, speak­ing out in de­fi­ance of their own NDAS, that led to We­in­stein’s world­wide #Metoo reck­on­ing.

Now, crit­ics of NDAS hope the events of last week will have pos­i­tive im­pli­ca­tions for fu­ture vic­tims of abuse. Con­ser­va­tive MP Maria Miller, chair of the House of Com­mons Women and Equal­i­ties Se­lect Com­mit­tee, which is spear­head­ing the cam­paign for re­form, told Grazia she hoped they would be banned en­tirely. ‘It’s un­ac­cept­able that the cur­rent sys­tem al­lows the use of NDAS to cover up al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing and that can­not be al­lowed to con­tinue,’ she said.

In re­cent years there has been grow­ing con­cern over the use of th­ese agree­ments to cover up wrong­do­ing. In one of the most no­to­ri­ous ex­am­ples, young women em­ployed as hostesses and wait­resses at an all-male Pres­i­dents Club char­ity din­ner in Lon­don last Jan­uary were obliged to sign NDAS shortly be­fore many were groped and ha­rassed by pay­ing guests.

But far from be­ing con­fined to the worlds of celebrity and big busi­ness, NDAS are also hav­ing a mea­sur­able and per­ni­cious ef­fect on the ev­ery­day lives of ‘or­di­nary’ women in the work­place. Miller says, ‘NDAS are be­ing rou­tinely used to cre­ate an en­tire cul­ture of se­crecy around dis­crim­i­na­tion.’

This cul­ture also has a ‘trickle down’ ef­fect on the rest of us. Ear­lier this month, 34-year-old Kathryn May­orga broke her own NDA to ac­cuse Cris­tiano Ron­aldo of as­sault­ing her in a Las Ve­gas ho­tel in 2009. She claimed that he dis­patched a team of fix­ers to ma­nip­u­late her into keep­ing quiet for £287,000. The foot­baller la­belled the rape claim ‘fake news’. Kathryn’s lawyer, Larissa Dro­hoby­czer, told Grazia: ‘NDAS have dam­aged women’s rights by mut­ing the nar­ra­tive and the truth as to what sex­ual crimes and vi­o­lence women have ex­pe­ri­enced.’

As Har­vey We­in­stein’s for­mer as­sis­tant, Zelda Perkins, who coura­geously broke the 1998 NDA she signed un­der duress, says: ‘My goal now is to en­sure that NDAS can­not be weaponised and used to hide crim­i­nal be­hav­iour.’

A year af­ter #Metoo, surely it is time to fin­ish what Har­vey We­in­stein’s al­leged vic­tims have started.

Philip Green with (from left) Suki Water­house, Kate Moss, Cara Delev­ingne, Si­enna Miller and Naomi Camp­bell

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