Founder and CEO of Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin attends Ted Baker Wooster VIP Event on September 22, 2016 in New York City.
Image: Getty

Thousands of people have signed an online petition by current and former employees of fashion brand Ted Baker demanding that the company’s CEO Ray Kelvin end his alleged behavior of “forced hugging” and inappropriate touching.

Addressed to Ted Baker’s Board of Directors, the petition asks to “Put an end to forced ‘hugging’ by the CEO” and to “set up a way of reporting harassment to an independent, external body.”

The petition continues:

There are a lot of really positive things about working at Ted Baker but they’re often overshadowed by the ‘hugging’ and inappropriate touching and comments. I’ve seen the CEO ask young female members of staff to sit on his knee, cuddle him, or let him massage their ears. I went to HR with a complaint and was told ‘that’s just what Ray’s like’.

The owner regularly makes sexual innuendos at staff, he stroke people’s necks, he took off his shirt on one occasion and talked about his sex life. So many people have left the business due to harassment, whether that be verbal, physical or sexual. Pursuing the issue through the ‘proper’ channels i.e. Human Resources, is hopelessly ineffective. They don’t act on the reports. It’s time to break the silence.

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Nat Whalley, CEO of Organise, a platform for raising workplace-related issues, told CNN that 300 current and former Ted Baker employees have signed the petition. “It’s inspiring to see so many Ted Baker staff come forward and call out inappropriate behavior at the very top. It’s the biggest group of reports at one employer we’ve ever seen on Organise,” she said. As of Monday morning, the petition has collected over 2,000 signatures.

In a statement to the UK’s Press Association news agency, the company responded by saying they are looking to “understand the details and nature of the claims,” which are “entirely at odds with the values of our business and those of our CEO, we take them very seriously and will ensure that a thorough independent investigation is carried out.”

“Ray greets many people he meets with a hug, be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague,” the statement continued. “It is critically important to us that every member of our staff feels valued and respected at work.”