More than 200 employees of British fashion group Ted Baker have filed a petition against its 62-year-old founder and CEO Ray Kelvin, accusing him of creating a culture of “forced hugging” and other inappropriate behavior at the company.
The petition, published on the workplace campaign platform Organise, urged the company’s board of directors to end this “awkward hugging culture.” By Sunday night, it had collected over 2,000 signatures from the public.
Ted Baker shares, traded on the London Stock Exchange, plunged 13 percent Monday morning due to the news.
Through Organise, over 50 current and former Ted Baker employees have anonymously reported incidents of harassment by Kelvin. Accusations range from asking female employees to sit on his knee to publicly inviting employees to star in porn movies with him.
“Lots of forced overly long hugs and kisses on the cheek, hand stroking, unsolicited massaging of employees shoulders,” said one employee, according to the document. “I have also heard first hand accounts of people being asked to sit on his lap or having had their legs stroked under the table in meetings.”
“So many people have left the business due to harassment, whether that be verbal, physical or sexual,” the petition states.
The petition also claims that Ted Baker’s human resources department has willfully ignored staff’s complaints against the CEO in the past by saying “that’s just what he’s like.”
“The general feeling inside Ted Baker is that there’s no official way to address the issue of harassment. That’s why we’re running this campaign,” says the petition.
Ted Baker said on Monday that it has directed an urgent external investigation into Kelvin’s behavior alleged in the petition.
Kelvin opened the first Ted Baker store in Glasgow, Scotland in 1988 selling men’s shirts. The store was named after one of Kelvin’s alter egos. The retailer has since expanded to operate 544 stores worldwide with annual sales of $753 million (as of January 2018).
Kelvin’s net worth is currently estimated at $650 million, according to British newspaper The Sunday Times’ annual Rich List. He is known for avoiding publicity and often refuses to show his full face in photos.