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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May 2008, 06:25 GMT 07:25 UK
Models join union to fight for rights
By Duncan Crawford
Newsbeat reporter

Hundreds of models have joined a union to demand better working rights and protection from sexual harassment, exploitation and even assault.

Model on catwalk

Since its official launch at London Fashion Week, more than 400 models have signed up to a 'models committee' within the actor's union Equity.

It means models have a place to go to for independent support and as membership is anonymous, agents cannot discriminate against models who join.

It follows repeated claims of "lewd behaviour" towards models, abusive working conditions and girls being pressurised not to eat and lose weight.

Models Dunja Knezevic and Victoria Keon-Cohen, who between them have worked for Topshop, Levi's and Armani, have been campaigning for change in the industry.

Victoria Keon-Cohen
Model Victoria Keon-Cohen has been campaigning for change

Under-age girls

Twenty two-year-old Keon-Cohen told Newsbeat about one shoot in particular.

She said: "There were about 10 girls, all different ages, having to strip down to a G-string to change into this underwear and about two or three men watching all the girls.

"They were trying to hide behind the clothes rack but the men were just looking into the mirrors to see their reflection."

Twenty six-year-old Knezevic told Newsbeat that police should investigate some of the things that go on.

Basic rights

She said: "Lewd behaviour happens quite a bit, actual sexual assault is more of a rarity. The problem is, no matter how rare it is, nothing ever gets done about it."

Equity has spoken to clients, agencies, bookers and photographers about getting basic rights for models and said the industry response has been positive.

Dunja Knezevic
Model Dunja Knezevic wants the police to look into what goes on

Equity are pushing for models to have proper breaks during shoots and trying to make sure they aren't pressurised into being extremely thin.

Models can also get help with legal advice and information on pensions.

'Ethical issues'

Leni Renton from Quintessentially Models backs the move but is not sure everyone is keen to change.

She said: "Lots of the agencies at the moment haven't taken on board these ethical issues that I feel should become the norm.

"Until that happens and they're ready to start addressing those issues I think they're going to find it very hard to proceed with the models union."

There's a model-led conference planned for September.

Representatives from all areas of fashion will be invited to see what progress has been made and to try and sort out what hasn't worked.

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