Two weeks ago an old man strode into a teen clothing shop, spotted a pink pop-up stand promoting a collection of feminist essays and, offended to his misogynistic core, demanded that staff tear it down 20 minutes after its erection. A week on from his tantrum in Topshop (which he owns as part of the Arcadia Group), Sir Philip Green has since been named in parliament as the man at the centre of what is being dubbed the ‘British #MeToo scandal’.
According to The Guardian, it is believed that Green spent £500,000 in legal costs to ensure a court granted injunction against the Daily Telegraph to prevent the newspaper from publishing five allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by employees. In keeping with what is becoming a common thread of these stories, the victims were gagged with non-disclosure agreements and some were given seven-figure secret payouts to settle their claims.
Yet judge approved injunctions and non-disclosure agreements do not hold up against parliamentary privilege which is what Labour peer Peter Hain used on Thursday to identify the mogul at the heart of the case. Parliamentary Privilege is a legal immunity granted to Members of the House of Commons and Lords, which protects members against any civil liability for their statements.
Many have taken this as an opportunity to debate the ethics of parliamentary privilege, with some accusing Lord Hain of arrogance and of viewing himself as being above the law. But what of the abusive way in which non-disclosure agreements are continually used to silence victims of abuse? Defending his decision to speak out, Lord Hain told Newsnight that what worried him the most about the case ‘was the wealth and power that comes with it’. He added that “it is for others to judge whether I’ve been right or wrong but there’s no point being in Westminster…if you never discharge or deploy the precious rights of parliamentary privilege”. Ultimately we must ask if we should hold the powerful to account and protect of voices of survivors, or should we allow the powerful to remain so whilst they silence those they abuse.
Not for the first time, calls have been made to strip Philip Green of his knighthood. A first attempt was made following the BHS pensions scandal where, if we remember: Green sold BHS for £1, watched it go into administration and lose £571m from its pension fund, cost 11,000 people their jobs before finally paying the Pensions Regulator a £363m cash settlement. Yet Downing Street has again refused, stating that it is a ‘matter for independent review’.
For sixteen years, Philip Green has dressed our nation’s teenage girls. He has sold them t-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘feminist’. He has abused his staff. He has intimidated women. Scarlett Curtis, editor of Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies, the book that was removed from the floors of Topshop, is correct when she says that “the patriarchy is still alive and kicking”. We may not have parliamentary privilege but we can make our voices heard. #pinknotgreen