In what is thought to be a first for the fashion industry, a group of models has joined British Actors' Equity, the trade union that represents stage and film performers and artists.
Martin Brown, a spokesman for Equity, said Monday a group of models had approached the union earlier this year with a litany of work-related complaints, and the request for "a voice" in the workplace.
"They told us they rarely see any contracts, or know what they are really being paid for a job," he said. "They complained about not being offered proper breaks or food, and not being consulted in advance about topless shots or simulated sex."
Brown said Equity had started accepting models on its books last week.
"We think this is the first models' union in the world," he said. Brown would not discuss members' names, but said "very well-known models at the top of the tree" had attended the Equity meetings and expressed feelings of vulnerability.
He added Equity would also be working alongside the British Fashion Council to put together standards of decency for the modeling industry. He said they would be discussing such issues as set-down hours, and consultations — before shoots — about nudity and simulated sex.
With regard to the modeling agencies, Brown said it was "not entirely realistic" to expect them to defend models' rights. "Agencies earn money on the basis of their models working. What the models need is a disinterested voice. That's what we're here for, and we're willing to work with the industry," he said.
Agencies IMG, Select, Storm and the London-based Association of Model Agents could not be reached for comment at press time.