Regulate Misconduct, Don’t Require Licenses

A New York Times article about poor working conditions for runway models and exploitation of underage children includes Tommy Hilfiger suggesting the creation of an occupational licensing scheme:

Tommy Hilfiger said he also continues to see models who are too young or too thin. “Eventually, I would like to see models become licensed and registered,” he said.

For decades, there have been efforts to unionize models, but because of the short-term nature of most careers, there has been little movement. After two years of planning, Sara Ziff, a former runway model, started a new group this week called the Model Alliance, advocacy group that seeks to empower models. Ms. Ziff said that problems in the industry, like violation of child labor laws, lack of financial transparency and sexual abuse, extend far beyond Fashion Week. In conjunction with Actors’ Equity and the American Guild of Musical Artists, Model Alliance has formed a grievance reporting system as one of its first initiatives.

I’m much more sympathetic to Ziff’s approach than to Hilfiger’s. The fact of the matter is that we already have laws regulating child labor and sexual abuse is already illegal and in both cases, rightly so. But those laws are not self-enforcing and it’s difficult for dis-empowered people to blow the whistle. Adding a licensing scheme is neither necessary nor sufficient to tackle these issues. Earlier in the piece we learned that the Council of Fashion Designers in America “urged its members to insist on seeing identification from models to prove that they are 16 by the time of their shows.” Actually checking IDs seems like a rudimentary first step. If people aren’t going to bother to do that, then licensing isn’t going to help anything. At the same time, it’s difficult to believe that a tough enforceable rule against using kids under the age of 16 as models in high-end fashion shows would somehow cripple the industry.