LONDON — Dec 6, 2018, 11:32 AM ET

British fashion house Ted Baker rocked by 'forced hugging' allegations

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Fashion retailers Ted Baker have launched an investigation into widespread allegations of workplace harassment, after claims surfaced that employees had been subjected to “forced hugs” by the company’s CEO and founder Ray Kelvin.

The company has enlisted the services of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to lead an independent external investigation. The law firm’s findings and recommendations will then be considered by a non-executive committee of board members. The committee will be chaired by Sharon Bayley, 50, a non-executive director who joined the company in June this year.

PHOTO: A branch of Ted Baker stands on Regent Street, Dec. 6, 2018, in London.Jack Taylor/Getty Images
A branch of Ted Baker stands on Regent Street, Dec. 6, 2018, in London.

The firm Herbert Smith Freehills, which Ted Baker officials said has had no previous dealings with the company, confirmed to ABC News that they were involved in the proceedings, but declined to comment further on the ongoing investigation.

The allegations were collated by workplace campaigners Organise, a group which claims that there is a “culture of harassment.”

The group says it has now sent more than 100 anonymous reports of harassment to Ted Baker’s board, which include allegations of “forced hugging.”

We do not believe these reports are reflective of the organization we have all worked hard to develop over the last 30 years.

Organise filed a petition with the board of directors at Ted Baker to launch an investigation into the reports titled “Scrap the forced 'hugs' and end harassment at Ted Baker”.

“Put an end to forced 'hugging' by the CEO,” the petition said, referring to Kelvin, the chief executive officer. “It is part of a culture that leaves harassment unchallenged.”

Organise alleges that the company “has done nothing with the reports of harassment to date,” adding that “harassment at Ted Baker is well documented but wilfully ignored by those in charge.”

PHOTO: Lady Mary Parkinson, Founder and CEO of Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin and Sir Michael Parkinson attend the launch of new book George Best: A Memoir by Sir Michael Parkinson, Nov. 12, 2018, in London. Dave Benett/Getty Images
Lady Mary Parkinson, Founder and CEO of Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin and Sir Michael Parkinson attend the launch of new book "George Best: A Memoir" by Sir Michael Parkinson, Nov. 12, 2018, in London.

At the center of the controversy is the 62-year-old founder of Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin. He has been CEO of the brand since its launch in 1988.

Put an end to forced 'hugging' by the CEO. It is part of a culture that leaves harassment unchallenged.

Kelvin has a reputation in London for eccentricity.

Before an interview with business magazine Marketing Week in 2016, Kelvin reportedly hugged the male interviewer for over a minute, and then joked “don’t report me for sexual harassment.”

The company has taken a hit in the stock market as a result of the allegations, which were published in the Observer on Sunday.

On Monday, shares fell by 15 percent. Shares then fell a further 10 percent the next day, before a 3 percent rise when the independent investigation was announced on Wednesday, according to the Financial Times.

Ted Baker officials said they were taking the allegations “very seriously” in a statement.

“We have always placed great importance on our culture," the statement said. "It is critically important to us that every member of our staff feels valued and respected at work.”

“We do not believe these reports are reflective of the organization we have all worked hard to develop over the last 30 years," it continued. "The Non-Executive Committee will carefully consider the content and recommendations of their report.”

News - British fashion house Ted Baker rocked by 'forced hugging' allegations

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  • Nikki Travis

    I worked in security for a few years. One of my bosses would find me at every supervisors meeting and hug me. Not only did I pull away, I told him multiple times to stop. This wasn't just a hug in greeting but instead were almost what I would call forced holds. He would walk up behind you and hold you pressing his weight onto you and keeping your arms firmly at your sides by holding you for a prolonged period. We took company photos and in the group photos you could see the clock behind us. There are 17 pics of him holding me like that over 3 minutes and in one of them you can see his fingers digging into my arm. Also, he would place his hand on the back of my shoulder and manipulate his hand like you would a woman's breast. At the holiday party my dress in the back was at the same level as my bra strap. Amazingly it held together all night long with no problems until "Creepy Steve" hugged me. Then, all of a sudden my bra strap came unhooked! The next Monday I made a complaint with HR again. Except this time the secretary was watching the whole thing and was a witness to him unsnapping my bra.

    He was reprimanded and then a few weeks later the team in SC wanted to pay for their best Lt's to go on a business trip to take security training courses at the CSO conference in Dallas. All of a sudden my bosses were making comments such as: "What did you do to get this? Are you in a relationship with one of the managers? Finally they actually asked, "Are you having sex with the head of security from South Carolina?" I lived in Ohio and except for sending monthly reports over email I never spoke to the guy. Apparently being good at my job and never screwing up payroll and catching two fire hazards in the server room as well as saving a woman's life using an AED was not reason enough to send me to Dallas. They actually contacted the SC office and requested his travel documents to try to prove we were "involved"! The man had made 1 trip to Ohio in 7 years and it was 3 months before I even started working at the site!

    When I returned from the Security Conference I was treated horribly by my bosses. So badly that I recorded them using my work phone number with help from the company's tech support to prove I was being harassed. Mysteriously a year later our company lost the bid and the SC based company switched security companies. I was asked to stay on as the Lt and be hired by the new company. I did but sadly the new company was so disorganized I went without a paycheck for almost a month. All of the employees ended up becoming so angry with the new company more than half my staff had quit within the first month. I stayed on as long as I could but finally I had to quit because of non-payment.

    I highly doubt if these "hugs" are the same kind and friendly gestures many of these posters seem to believe are intended. Your whole body is screaming get the frack away from me while everyone else is wondering what is wrong with the little prude who can't handle a hug. Do me a favor, you go hug a child you don't know for more than 2 minutes and see how long it takes for them to treat you like a pedophile.

  • Omegacron

    Hmm... the good thing about today's culture is that kids can now sue their aunts for forced hugging & cheek-pinching. It scars for life, after all.

  • OtherMrNiceGuy

    "Come on in here!" "Are we done yet?" "My hug-o-meter says we have 50 more seconds"

  • THeJava_Bean

    Waiting for the day someone tells Europeans they have to give up the custom of the cheeks-kissing greeting, including the ubiquitous air kiss. How dare someone invade my AIR to say hello to me!

  • RB in WV

    I thought this was kind of funny till I read the part about hugging for an entire minute. Yuck! A short unwanted hug is bad enough, but a minute-long hug? I put up with short unwanted hugs that I know are meant well because I know I'm a bit of an outlier. If someone tried to hug me for a minute, though, I'd tell them that was enough and I'd break their grip. When they inevitably tried to tease me, I'd own it and tell them to keep their stinking hands off me.

  • MandalayBay328

    Maybe if we all got more hugs - the world wouldn't be such a s hit storm!

  • Art

    Forced hugs!!! OMG!!! I hope no one got pregnant as a result.

  • Rubber Banned

    I won't feel safe until we all have our own surrogates to interact with the world for us.

  • donnie vanderford

    Who would have thought hugging could ruin your life.

  • Fatesrider

    I loathe huggers. Some folks just have no idea how offensive such a thing is to others. In the legal world, any non-consensual touching is considered legal battery, and is an actionable offense. Doctors have been charged with battery simply because they didn't get permission to touch a patient before they went ahead and did so. (I've seen it happen, and it's happened to me.)

    Legally, huggers are no different. It may be the way some people say hello, but it's not a legal practice without prior consent. If someone wants to hug, and the other holds out their arms to receive it, that's implied consent, and usually that's fine. But if someone isn't responding and didn't otherwise say it's okay, that's called battery and is a misdemeanor crime just about everywhere.

    Huggers, beware. Some people take great offense at what you do to say "hi!". And a boss doing that to employees adds the dimension of abuse of authority to the battery they commit on their employees. I don't care how someone was raised, or what they think. The point is, it can be considered a crime, sexually or otherwise. If you want to hug, ask. If they say no, don't. Never assume a hug is welcome.

    It's not rocket science there.

  • LucanTheMan

    Yeah - that dang white male thinks he can give people a hug. How dare him.