Staff at Ted Baker have launched a petition calling for an end to a culture of “forced hugs” and unwanted attention from the company’s founder and boss.
A employee-launched petition accuses chief executive Ray Kelvin of inappropriate behaviour and comments to staff.
“He'll want to brush this under the carpet,” the petition’s author wrote. “But staff won't be ignored if thousands of us stand with them.”
The company could not immediately be reached for comment, but said in a statement to the BBC that hugs are “part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon”, claiming Kelvin greets many people with hugs.
“While the claims made are entirely at odds with the values of our business and those of our chief executive officer, we take them very seriously,” the company said.
The petition, which has nearly 1,800 signatures, alleges that Kelvin, who launched the first Ted Baker store in 1988, regularly uses sexual innuendo, and has asked young female staff members to sit on his knee or let him massage their ears.
Hosted using the platform Organise, the petition claims to represent 200 Ted Baker staff, and alleges there are 50 recorded incidents of harassment at the company. It says the company’s human resources department (HR) has not acted on claims, saying: “Many of the staff have reported [Kelvin] to HR, but HR keep saying ‘that's just what he’s like’.”
It says Kelvin “tries to massage people around the office, insists on long hugs with staff members, touches them inappropriately and openly asks his staff for sex.”
FTSE-250-listed Ted Baker, which is due to issue a trading update on Thursday, is named after an alter-ego of Kelvin, an eccentric chief executive who as a quirk refuses to show his full face in photos. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, Kelvin is worth £552m.
“The general feeling inside Ted Baker is that there’s no official way to address the issue of harassment,” the petition says. “That's why we're running this campaign.”
“There are a lot of really positive things about working at Ted Baker but they’re often overshadowed by this underlying awkwardness about the ‘hugging’ and inappropriate comments,” it adds.
The firm said it has “very clear and robust HR policies in place to provide all employees with a wide range of reporting options for any issues that they might encounter, including a completely confidential and anonymous, 24/7 helpline”.