Ted Baker employees rise up against CEO’s ‘forced hugging’

Employees at UK fashion label Ted Baker have launched a petition to end “forced hugging” and other alleged sleazy behavior by its longtime founder and chief executive.

British clothing tycoon Ray Kelvin regularly “tries to massage people around the office, insists on long hugs with staff members, touches them inappropriately and openly asks his staff for sex,” according to the petition.

Despite a “well documented” pattern of harassment, Ted Baker’s human resources department has turned a blind eye to 62-year-old Kelvin’s behavior, according to the petitioners on Organise, a UK-based worker advocacy site.

“I’ve seen the CEO ask young female members of staff to sit on his knee, cuddle him, or let him massage their ears,” one wrote. “I went to HR with a complaint and was told ‘that’s just what Ray’s like.’ ”

Shares of Ted Baker, which operates nearly 500 stores worldwide, plunged 15 percent on the London Stock Exchange to a five-year low on the news.

The petitioners are demanding their claims be vetted by an “independent, external body.”

In a statement, the company said it’s taking the concerns “very seriously” and that it has ordered a “thorough and urgent independent external investigation” into the claims.

Nevertheless, the company also appeared in its statement to at least partly defend its CEO. Kelvin himself didn’t comment on the allegations Monday.

“Ray greets many people he meets with a hug — be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague,” the company added. “Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon.”

One petitioner described an afternoon at the office in which Kelvin “singled out employees and [made] them slow dance with him,” adding that workers “escaped the humiliation by hiding in the bathrooms/kitchens which were much safer places than our own desks.”

Kelvin, who in 1988 opened the company’s first store in Glasgow, Scotland, has an estimated net worth of $666 million. In 2011, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the fashion industry.

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