Staff at fashion chain Ted Baker have accused its top boss of fostering a culture of harassment in an online petition.
Employees claim Ray Kelvin, 62, regularly embarks upon “forced hugging”, uses “sexual innuendos” and has been seen “stroking people’s necks” at the company’s head office in King’s Cross, London.
Kelvin, who created an alter-ego to provide inspiration for the Ted Baker brand, has become one of Britain’s most successful retailers, worth nearly £522m, according to The Sunday Times Rich List.
But according to the petition, run by employment rights start-up Organise, Kelvin “always wants a hug from every member of the staff”.
One employee writes: “He once came and started massaging my shoulders and kissed me on the neck. I was a 21 year old girl and it was my first ever ‘proper’ job.”
The Sunday Times newspaper also spoke with 11 former Ted Baker employees who made similar claims about Kelvin’s behaviour.
Organise surveyed 64 Ted Baker employees, both men and women, and sent the findings to the company last week.
The report, seen by HuffPost UK, includes claims that staff “had their legs stroked” during meetings.
One staff member wrote: “Lots of forced overly long hugs and kisses on the cheek, hand stroking, unsolicited massaging of employees shoulders. I have also heard first hand accounts of people being asked to sit on Ray’s lap or having had their legs stroked under the table in meetings.”
Another wrote: “Whilst working for Ted Baker I witnessed sexual harassment almost daily and found myself on the receiving end of it several times.”
Ted Baker said in a statement that the firm “owes everything to the commitment of our people”.
The company said that Kelvin often greets people “with a hug, be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague.”
“Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon,” the statement added.
The company said it was working with Organise to understand more about the claims made in the petition, but maintained they were “entirely at odds with the values of our business and those of our CEO”.
Staff also said in the petition that the company’s human resources department failed to adequately deal with complaints.
“The CEO’s overly touchy approach and attitude towards women is played down and explained away by seniors and HR alike,” one staff member said.
Ted Baker was founded by Kelvin, who is known to shun publicity, in 1988 and has grown to include a portfolio of hundreds of stores worldwide.
It comes after Topshop tycoon Sir Philip Green was named in parliament as the businessman at the heart of a court battle over a Daily Telegraph investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Harassment claims in the business world have come under growing scrutiny in the past year following the #MeToo movement.