| 30 November 2023, Thursday |

Abercrombie & Fitch launches investigation into ex-CEO sexual misconduct claims

Clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) says it is investigating allegations against its former CEO.

Mike Jeffries has been accused of exploiting men at sex events he hosted around the world.

A BBC investigation found an organised network used a middleman to recruit young adult men for the events with Mr Jeffries and his partner Matthew Smith, with some alleging they were abused.

Mr Jeffries and Mr Smith did not respond to requests for comment.

A&F – which runs about 850 stores worldwide, including its Hollister brand – said that since being contacted by the BBC it had engaged an “outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation” into the claims. It said it was “appalled and disgusted” by the alleged behaviour.

There is no evidence that the company was aware of the allegations of exploitation at sex events uncovered by the BBC.

It has previously described Mr Jeffries as its modern-day founder, after he transformed the Ohio-based brand from a failing heritage outfitter in the 1990s to a multi-billion-dollar teen retailer. He stepped down in 2014 following declining sales and left with a retirement package valued at around $25m (£20.5m), according to company filings at the time.

BBC Panorama reported that in the months before Mike Jeffries’ exit, a pension fund invested in A&F brought legal proceedings in which it claimed the company had paid out settlements after allegations of “misconduct” by its then-CEO.

A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had seen internal documents describing payoffs for staff and agency workers who had complained about Mr Jeffries’ behaviour. The source said the documents he saw did not reveal the nature of the complaints.

BBC Panorama asked A&F if the complaints were of a sexual nature, but the company refused to answer.

After the BBC’s published its investigation into claims of exploitation at sex events on Monday, A&F said it was “not aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct”, and that its new leadership had transformed the company into “the values-driven organisation we are today”.

The two-year BBC investigation uncovered allegations that Mr Jeffries exploited men for sex at events he hosted in his New York residences and luxurious hotels around the world, including in London, Paris, Venice, and Marrakesh.

Twelve men described attending or organising events involving sex acts run for the fashion mogul, 79, and his British partner Mr Smith, 60, between 2009 and 2015.

The eight men who attended the events said they were recruited by a middleman, who they described as having a missing nose covered with a snakeskin patch. The BBC has identified him as James Jacobson.

Half the men who told the BBC about their recruitment alleged they had been initially misled about the nature of the events or not told sex was involved. Others said they understood the events would be sexual, but not exactly what was expected of them. All were paid.

Mr Jacobson denied any wrongdoing and said men went into the events “with their eyes wide open”.