Have Underage Models in New York Really Been Afforded Legal Rights?
In October 2013, New York amended state labor law to grant protection for fashion models under the age of 18, formally affording them the same rights that other underage entertainers have enjoyed for the last decade, according to an article published by The Daily Beast. Before New York revised requirements governing the treatment of young models, underage models were often sent to jobs where they encountered compromising and exploitative situations. But, sadly, working conditions for young models have not completely improved.According to a survey conducted by the Model Alliance, a labor group dedicated to improving working conditions for American fashion models, 54 percent of models begin working around the age of 16, and agencies even start employing new models as young as 13 years old. Therefore, New York’s amendments, implemented in an industry that typically employs young teenagers, are crucial in preventing underage models from “sacrificing their education, health, and financial security to model without the basic protections they deserve. . . .” explained the Independent Democratic Conference in a press release.
The Fashionista reported that since the law has been modified less than one year ago to include underage models, “there [have been] limits to the number of hours young models can work at a time.” For instance, underage models must have 12 hours off in between jobs, among other breaks and hour restrictions, explained Tyler McCall in his article New York Signs Law Protecting Child Models’ Labor Rights, Fashionista (Oct. 22, 2013). Likewise, the law also guarantees a tutor whenever a model under the age of 16 years old misses three or more consecutive days of school.
Overall, the new law was intended to inhibit designers from taking advantage of young models, with some designers reportedly retaining models in their fittings until 4:30 a.m. Coco Rocha, a supermodel who supported the legislation, was enthusiastic about the law protecting young models from abuse, as she remembered receiving phone calls from her agency sending her to “‘so-and-so casting and [they] don’t know how long you’re going to be there,’ […] for pretty much no pay.” Additionally, underage models are now required to register for work permits and set up trust funds in their names, and designers must have a certificate to hire child models. Designers that violate these requirements face fines: $1,000 for the first violation, $2,000 for the second, and $3,000 for the third and every preceding offense.
But, how have these requirements affected young models’ careers since their implementation? McCall explained the trust account condition obliges child models to transfer 15 percent of their income into a trust fund, which revolutionizes the standard practice of paying models “in trade” – giving them clothing for work. However, he further expressed that there is skepticism about monetizing the payment of clothing, with some claiming that it does not amount to much money anyway. But the final, probably unintended, result of the law is that many designers are declining underage models altogether, he explained. McCall reported casting director James Scully revealed that many clients request that he does not send them any model under 18 years old because of all the paperwork and time linked with certification.
And despite the new amendments, this fall’s New York Fashion Week has demonstrated “that child labor regulation in the American fashion industry still [has] a long way to go.” Underage models have reported that while changing backstage, the press did not leave, and no one was concerned if the disrobing models were underage.