Abercrombie & Fitch says it has launched its own investigation into allegations originally published by the BBC that the company’s former chief executive, Mike Jeffries, exploited men for sexual purposes.
“We are shocked and disgusted by the behavior described in the allegations against Mr. Jeffries, whose employment at Abercrombie & Fitch Co. ended in 2014, almost ten years ago. Speaking out and showing up is not easy, and our thoughts are with those who bravely raised their voices,” the retailer said in a statement sent to CNN on Tuesday.
“Since being 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 executive leadership team and board of directors were not aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Jeffries,” the statement said. “For nearly a decade, a new executive leadership team and a refreshed board of directors have successfully transformed our brands and culture into the values-driven organization we are today. “We have zero tolerance for abuse, harassment or discrimination of any kind.”
Eight men told the BBC that Jeffries and his partner organized events at various locations in several countries in which some of them were allegedly exploited for sexual purposes. At least some of the parties are alleged to have occurred while Jeffries was CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch.
The BBC report said the men alleged they were recruited through a middleman who used a network of recruiters and paid them between $500 and $1,000 for each referral.
The BBC said its two-year investigation includes information collected from 12 men who claimed to have attended or organized events over a six-year period, from 2009 to 2015, in which sexual activities took place for and with Jeffries and his partner Matthew Smith. .
Several of the men told the BBC that recruiters gave them the impression that there might be a modeling opportunity for them with the brand if they accepted. However, the report also says 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 collected emails, plane tickets and other documentation that it says lend credence to the men’s accounts, as well as interviews conducted with other sources, including former domestic staff.
Jeffries’ lawyer, Brian Bieber, responded to CNN’s BBC report, saying, “Michael is 79 years old and retired. In past years, he has chosen not to comment on media reports, documentaries and stories of any kind that relate to his personal life, and he does not plan to do so now.
Abercrombie & Fitch abruptly announced Jeffries’ retirement in 2014 from his position as CEO of the teen clothing chain, a position he had held since 1992.
The company suffered multiple consecutive quarters of declining sales at its stores open at least a year before his departure, and Jeffries had become a lightning rod for controversy, especially after he said in a 2006 interview with Salon that clothing The brand was more for “cool” and “beautiful” people. Jeffries eventually apologized years later for his interview comments.
Jeffries also received criticism from consumers and youth advocacy groups who criticized the brand’s marketing tactics under his reign of featuring scantily clad teenage models in its advertising and often having shirtless male employees greeting customers in their stores.
In 2002, the retailer recalled controversial T-shirts after complaints that they were racially insensitive. One T-shirt featured Chinese laundry workers wearing conical hats and the phrase: “Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Can Make It White.”
In 2003, the company – under pressure from some consumer groups – said it would stop publishing racy catalogs and halt publication of its Christmas book, which featured naked young adult models in sexually suggestive poses.
Under his direction, Abercrombie & Fitch also agreed in 2004 to pay $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged the company discriminated in the workplace against promoted white workers over black, Hispanic and Asian employees, according to The New York Times.