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Abercrombie & Fitch Co. signage is displayed in store on 5th Avenue in New York, USA, on Sunday, February 28, 2016.
New York CNN –
Abercrombie & Fitch says it has launched its own investigation into allegations originally published by the BBC that the company’s former CEO Mike Jeffries exploited men for sex.
“We are appalled and outraged by the conduct described in the allegations against Mr. Jeffries, whose employment with Abercrombie & Fitch Co. ended in 2014, nearly 10 years ago.” It is not easy to speak up and speak out voice, and our thoughts are with those who courageously spoke out,” the retailer said in a statement sent to CNN on Tuesday.
“Since we were contacted by the BBC we have engaged an external law firm to carry out an independent investigation into the issues raised. The company’s current leadership team and board were unaware of Mr. Jeffries’ allegations of sexual misconduct,” the statement said. “For nearly a decade, a new leadership team and refreshed board have successfully transformed our brands and culture into the values-driven organization we are today. We do not tolerate abuse, harassment or discrimination of any kind.”
Eight men told the BBC that Jeffries and his partner held events at various locations in several countries where some of them were allegedly exploited for sex. At least some of the parties are said to have taken place when Jeffries was CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch.
The BBC report said the men claimed they were recruited through a middleman who used a network of recruiters and paid them $500 to $1,000 for each referral.
The BBC said its two-year investigation included information from 12 men who claimed they either attended or organized events involving sexual activity for and with Jeffries and his partner Matthew Smith over a six-year period from 2009 to 2015 became.
Several of the men told the BBC that recruiters had given the impression that there could be a modeling opportunity for them with the brand if they agreed. However, the report also states that the alleged middleman denied any wrongdoing and claimed the men attended the events “with their eyes wide open.”
As part of its investigation, the BBC said it had collected emails, airline tickets and other documents that it said gave credibility to the men’s accounts, as well as interviews with other sources, including former household staff.
Jeffries’ lawyer, Brian Bieber, responded to CNN about the BBC report, saying: “Michael is 79 years old and retired. In recent years he has chosen not to comment on media reports, documentaries and stories of any kind relating to his personal life – and has no plans to do so now.”
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Mike Jeffries, former CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, photographed in November 2005.
Abercrombie & Fitch abruptly announced in 2014 that Jeffries was stepping down from his position as CEO of the teen clothing chain, which he had held since 1992.
The company was suffering several consecutive quarters of sales declines at its stores that had been open for at least a year at the time of his departure, and Jeffries had become a lightning rod for controversy, particularly after he said in a 2006 interview with Salon that the company’s clothing Brand is more for “cool” and “good-looking” people. Years later, Jeffries finally apologized for his interview comments.
Jeffries also drew criticism from consumers and youth organizations who criticized the brand’s marketing tactics under his rule, featuring scantily clad teenage models in advertising and often having shirtless male employees greeting customers in stores.
In 2002, the retailer withdrew controversial T-shirts after complaints that they were racist. One T-shirt depicted Chinese laundry workers wearing cone-shaped hats and reading, “Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Can Make It White.”
In 2003, under pressure from some consumer groups, the company announced that it would stop publishing offensive catalogs and publishing its holiday book, which featured nude young adult models in sexually suggestive poses.
Under his watch, Abercrombie & Fitch also agreed in 2004 to pay $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused the company of workplace discrimination by promoting white workers over black, Hispanic and Asian ones were preferred over employees, as the New York Times reported.