The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Japan to adopt legislation that would make sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace illegal. The recommendation comes in response to Rina Bovrisse’s nearly four-year-long legal battle with Prada Japan, her former employer, who she sued in Tokyo court for sexual harassment and discrimination.
Bovrisse sued the label after Prada Japan CEO David Sesia ordered the demotion or transfer of female employees he found “old, fat, ugly, disgusting, or did not have the Prada look.” Tokyo court ruled that although Prada management did engage in the discrimination Bovrisse and her coworkers described, it was acceptable behavior for a fashion house whose employees should be able to take it. So Bovrisse brought her case to the UN in April as the first fashion case ever to be heard by that commission.
“Anyone who buys from the Prada and Miu Miu brands are supporting a culture of discrimination and power harassment,” Bovrisse said in her testimony before the commission. “With the power of social networking, powerful companies can no longer hide their dirty secrets. I am taking a stand, but I have gathered strength from the support I get from around the world.” She added, “In reality, The Devil Wears Prada is a soft version of the highly competitive world of luxury fashion.”
Calling herself a “victim of harassment by the Prada Group,” Bovrisse described how, after she complained about the harassment to Prada COO Sebastian Suhl and the human resources office in Milan, she was let go for “bringing negative energy to the company” and accused of being mentally ill. She said the brand provided a resignation letter for her to sign and noted that Prada Japan CEO David Sesia is quoted in court documents as saying, “One must watch pornographic films in order to understand how women think.”
The UN’s ruling, which was just released, reads:
The Committee urges the State party to introduce in its legislation an offence of sexual harassment, in particular in the workplace, which carries sanctions proportionate to the severity of the offence. The Committee also recommends that the State party ensure that victims can lodge complaints without fear of retaliation. The Committee recommends that the State party continue to raise the public awareness against sexual harassment.
In an email to BuzzFeed Fashion, Bovrisse described the ruling as “very positive,” adding, “I hope Miuccia Prada realizes we live in 2013, that the power of social networking and individual voice can [bring attention to] any brands for doing the wrong thing… I am a happier person now not wearing brands to identify myself.”
Prada has countersued Bovrisse for $780,000 for damaging its image. At the time of this writing, a Change.org petition urging Prada to drop the lawsuit has garnered 203,000 signatures.