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Missy Empire employees told no HR function in culture scandal

All organisations should have whistleblowing reporting channels, says Protect

Former staff of fast fashion retailer Missy Empire claimed they were told the company did not have an HR function, after they complained of a toxic work culture.

Eighteen ex-employees made allegations that detailed their experience of bullying, and abusive and degrading comments, while working at the company, the Guardian reported last week (9 February).

Among the allegations were staff being shouted and sworn at and asked to model clothes for the managing director, who made degrading comments about models’ body shape and appearance.

The ex-employees further purported to have found what looked like a voice recorder in the staff kitchen.

Upon detailing their mistreatment to an employee relations manager, the former employees claimed they were told that the company did not have an HR function.

They also said the HR department email address was monitored by the company’s co-founder and director, Ish Siddique, so they had nowhere to take complaints.

Read more: How to identify whistleblowing and protected disclosures

Ian Moore, managing director of HR consultancy Lodge Court, told HR magazine that these allegations underscore the role HR plays in preventing toxic workplace environments.

He said: “HR, when fully present and proactive, can prevent such issues from arising or escalating by fostering an open and respectful atmosphere, enforcing company policies, and providing necessary support to employees.

“They can also provide clear and easily accessible guidelines on how to report misconduct.”

He continued that HR is as important to employers as employees.

“We’re pleased that the employees of Missy Empire have taken the courageous step to speak up, and hope that other employers who don't treat their staff with respect take notice.”

Andrew Pepper Parson, director of whistleblowing policy at the charity Protect, told HR magazine that all organisations should have whistleblowing reporting channels in place to prevent malpractice.

Read more: HR concerns make up majority of whistleblowing reports

He commented: “It is important to provide multiple reporting methods wherever possible such as voicemail, email and face-to-face meetings, to accommodate the diverse needs and preferences of individuals who wish to raise concerns.”

Larger organisations might choose to have a dedicated external hotline to allow an independent body to deal with the concern, he noted.

He added: “In some cases a hotline can have the additional advantage of guaranteeing anonymity to the whistleblower, which may be most appropriate if there is a culture of fear in raising concerns. 

“Smaller organisations may not be able to use such channels. However, a confidential email address and a named senior manager, director or trustee are alternative effective options to raise concerns with.”

Missy Empire was acquired by JD Sports in June 2021, which told The Guardian that despite being the majority stakeholder for 18 months, Missy Empire was responsible for the day-to-day running of the business, including its HR procedures.

JD Sports sold the company to Frasers Group in 2022, which did not respond to The Guardian’s request for comment.

HR magazine contacted Frasers Group for comment.