Position Statement – 2023
2477-A (Hoylman-Sigal)/A. 5631-A (Reyes)
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) supports the passage of S2477-A (Hoylman-Sigal)/A 5631-A (Reyes) which would require impose standards upon model management companies.
New York is the center of the American fashion industry, boasting world-class creative talent, best-in-class production companies and fashion and design schools. New York’s fashion industry employs 180,000 people, accounting for 6% of the City’s workforce and generating $10.9 billion in total wages. New York Fashion Week, a semi-annual series of events when fashion collections are shown to buyers, the press and the general public, has long been one of the City’s economic drivers, generating close to $600 million in income each year; yet, the creative workforce behind the industry’s success – namely, models, influencers, and performing artists – are not afforded basic labor protections in New York.
Currently, the modeling industry is almost entirely unregulated, even though it relies on a labor force of young, mostly foreign-born teenaged girls who are beholden to the modeling agency that recruits them. Modeling agencies, also referred to as model management companies, hold control the models who work for them. Often, these companies hold a model’s power of attorney, sponsor the models’ work visas, house young models in overpriced apartments, and may even hold them to exclusive, multi-year contracts without any obligation to book work for them or pay them in a timely manner.
Due to the multi-level structure of hiring these professionals as independent contractors through management companies, modeling agencies, unlike talent agencies, consider themselves to be management companies under New York State General Business Law § 171(8), known as the “incidental booking exception.” The modeling agencies are thereby able to escape licensing, regulation, and an accountability. Contracts are almost always one-sided, giving the agencies a huge amount of control over models’ working lives.
With this inequal power balance, human trafficking in the modeling industry can operate through legitimate modeling agencies. Models, for example, are “pimped out” to powerful men across the globe. In addition to human trafficking, scam “agencies” frequently appear and prey on mostly young women and girls who have aspirations to model and are not — and likely never will be — employed as professional fashion models. Through false promises of modeling work, scam agencies will solicit nude photos, explicit videos, and/or significant sums of money from aspiring models. Human trafficking within the modeling industry extends far beyond the formal workforce to include those who aspire to the seemingly lucrative, glamorous lifestyle portrayed by the industry.
The Fashion Workers Act would address these issues by closing the legal loophole which allows management companies escape accountability and create basic protections for fashion’s creative workforce. As New York’s fashion industry begins to recover from pandemic-related downfall, New York State must ensure the industry’s workers are fairly compensated for their work and protected from abuse.
WBASNY strongly supports the regulation and accountability that S2477-A/A 5631-A would impose and believes that this legislation will provide an avenue for ending the systematic exploitation of young women and girls under the guise of legitimate fashion businesses. WBASNY strongly urges the legislature to pass the Fashion Workers Act to end the exploitation and abuse in this industry.