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