Shops could face legal action over 'lads' mags'

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Media captionKat Banyard, UK Feminista: "People shouldn't have to be subjected to them whilst they're at work or doing their weekly shop"

Retailers are being warned they could face legal action if they continue to sell magazines showing images of naked and semi-naked women.

Pressure groups and lawyers say displaying the magazines or requiring staff to handle them could amount to sexual harassment or discrimination.

Campaigners say shops could be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

The British Retail Consortium said its members do not sell anything illegal and have long followed industry rules.

Gender equality groups UK Feminista and Object have joined forces with 11 lawyers to launch the Lose the Lads' Mags campaign.

They have written an open letter to launch their national campaign, which was published in the Guardian newspaper on Monday.

"High-street retailers are exposing staff and, in some cases, customers to publications whose handling and display may breach equality legislation," the letter said.

"Displaying lads' mags and pornographic papers in 'mainstream' shops results in the involuntary exposure of staff and, in some cases, customers to pornographic images."

The letter says there are examples of staff successfully suing employers in respect of exposure to pornographic material at work.

Sexual harassment can be defined as unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment.

'Real harm'

UK Feminista director Kat Banyard said so-called lads' mags fuelled sexist attitudes and behaviour by portraying women as "sex objects".

She told the BBC the images caused "real harm".

"They promote sexist attitudes and behaviours - attitudes which underpin violence against women," she said.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: "Major retailers understand their responsibilities to staff and customers.

"BRC members don't sell anything it isn't legal to sell and they have long followed joint industry guidelines, as well as taking their own independent voluntary action, to make sure that front covers which may concern some people are displayed discreetly.

"Our members regard their stores as family-friendly environments which is why conversations with staff and customers about what they believe is appropriate will continue."

Shane Brennan, from Association of Convenience Stores, urged customers to tell shopkeepers how they felt about this issue as the retailers cannot be the arbiter of what should appear in a magazine.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live about the possibility of legal action, he said issuing threats was "not particularly helpful".

Piers Hernu, who has written for Loaded and FHM and used to be editor of Front magazine, said no "right-minded individual" would consider the content of these magazines pornographic.

"What we have here is a very deeply sinister and disturbing attempt by a group of fundamentalist, fanatical feminists trying to rope in some lawyers in order to bully the supermarkets into removing lads mags' from the shelves by alerting both staff and customers that they may be able to win a court case," he told the BBC.

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