Proposed law could protect underage models

Lauren Craddock, Staff Writer

In the age of the rise of the celebrity model, many faces gracing runways, fashion magazines and ad campaigns across the world are under 18. On the surface, their lives as models look glamorous, but the reality for underage models is that they have little protection under child labor laws. On July 29, New York Rep. Grace Meng proposed the Child Performers Protection Act of 2015 to protect the youth lives of the fashion industry.

The Child Performers Protection Act of 2015 proposes to expand upon federal workplace safety measures for child performers. According to the bill, a child performer is defined as a “child under the age of 18 employed or contracted as an actor or performer in a motion picture or live theatrical production, or in a radio or television production, or as a model for a fashion show, showroom, or similar production or for commercial media.” For models, whose average career begins at the age of 14, the bill has potential to allow for increased workplace protection.

The new bill specifically outlines working hours allowed per day by age of the performer, along with the financial responsibilities regarding salary and savings. In particular, 15 percent of the child performer’s earning must be placed into a trust account set up by a parent or guardian. The bill also offers protection against sexual harassment, an especially prevalent issue in the modeling industry. Child models are often placed in jobs that require the sexual exploitation of the child. Young models are objectified because of their willingness to follow the direction of a photographer in exchange for a better career. Model Coco Rocha, after reaching her celebrity status, has exposed the harassment she received in the early years of her career being forced to strip without option to privacy. Just last year, photographer Shaun Colclough was convicted for two counts of sexually assaulting young models and forcing models into
explicit photoshoots.

Up until 2013, underage models were not considered child performers and therefore had little federal protection. Models overall lack much federal work protection as they are not considered employees, but are independent contractors. Because of this, underage models could be subject to overtime in hours and exploitation by not only the brand or designer, but also a parent or guardian’s control of funds.

Child performer labor laws vary state by state, therefore labor policy for underage models is not uniform. States that provide the most protection under child performer permits are New York and California, both home to major entertainment and fashion industries. Rep. Meng’s proposed bill will allow for a uniform federal protection for child models in particular. Currently, the bill has yet to be voted on and is taking its first steps in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Although a step in the right direction, the bill lacks the major change needed for fair wages, hours and financial responsibilities on the performer’s guardians. Rep. Meng’s proposed bill could be successful in protecting underage models. However, the bill contains only minor changes to already established labor laws for states like New York and California. Underage models, as independent contractors, will still face unfair workplace conditions until a major change goes into effect.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 16 print edition. Email Lauren Craddock at [email protected].