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'We have to question Abercrombie's policy'

Ben McPartland · 25 Jul 2013, 17:37

Published: 25 Jul 2013 17:37 GMT+02:00

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Abercrombie & Fitch’s flagship store on the Champs-Elysées is renowned for its good looking salesmen, who can be seen flashing their six-packs as they stroll round the store bare-chested.

The men and women who work at the store appear to be a little more than your average French shop assistant.

On the recruitment section of the Abercrombie’s website, the retailer appears to refer to the salesmen and women as ‘models’. This has been backed up by the words ofthe company's head Mike Jeffries.

In 2006 Jeffries justified recruiting "good-looking people" because they attracted "other good-looking people".

"We want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that," he said in an interview.

However Slimane Laoufi from Defenseur des Droits (Defender of Rights), which fights discrimination and promotes equality tells The Local why such recruitment tactics are wrong and why if proven they could eventually land Abercrombie in trouble in France.

“I have heard what the boss of the company has said in the past but maybe he does not realise that it could be discriminatory,” said Laoufi, who is in charge of fighting discrimination in private firms.

“We read many articles in the press that talked about the recruitment policy of Abercrombie & Fitch, that claimed it was based on the physical appearance of the person and nothing else. We heard they only take on good looking people based solely on what they look like.

“You cannot only look at appearances and not any other criteria. Discriminating against someone’s looks is just the same as discriminating against someone on the grounds of health or whether they are handicapped.  They are all forbidden.

“It becomes a subjective decision. What is beautiful to one person might not be beautiful to someone else. Someone might be obese but they might be a really good salesperson, but the fact they are fat means they won’t be taken on. The decision is not based on their skills. You need to give a chance to everyone.

“Choosing someone only on their looks is of course against French law and it’s against European law. So we took a decision to ask some questions. After everything we’ve been told we need to find out whether or not this is really the case.

Story continues below…

The right’s group may have a long way to go however before visitors to the Abercrombie & Fitch store are likely to see salesmen built like actor Gerard Depardieu rather Adonis.

“For the moment of course we have no proof that they have an official recruitment policy based only on looks but we have sent our decision to Abercrombie HQ in the US and we have asked them to send us all the documents about recruitment.

“We will see how they respond but we don’t expect it to be before September.  If it is proved that it’s discriminatory then we will ask them to change it and to put in place a different system.  We will also have the possibility of forcing them to do it through the law and if  they refuse then they will be subject to legal punishment. However, we are far from that. That is the last step.

“Obviously they could come back to us and say they don’t recruit based on physical appearance. Even we have our suspicions we cannot judge without proof. However it is still important that we ask these questions.”

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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