One of the UK's largest magazine retailers has threatened to pull so-called "lads' mags" off the shelves of its 4,000 stores unless publishers put them in sealed bags to cover up overtly sexual images by Sept. 9.
"As a community-based retailer we have listened to the concerns of our customers and members, many of whom say they object to their children being able to see overt sexual images in our stores," said Steve Murrells, the chief executive of retail for The Co-operative Group, in a press release.
"Whilst we have tried to mitigate the likelihood of young children seeing the images with a number of measures in-store, the most effective way of doing this is for these magazines to be put in individual, sealed modesty bags."
The Co-op has introduced opaque screens on its supermarket shelves this month, which will be in use until publishers comply with the request that they provide their own modesty bags.
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"Lads' mags" — publications primarily marketed to men, such as Zoo, FHM, Nuts and Loaded — have been on Britain's shelves for years. They are well known for their sexual content and scantily clad glamor-model cover girls.
But Sophie Bennett, a spokeswoman for the Lose the Lads' Mags campaign group, said the issue with the magazines was not nudity, but sexism. The group is calling for the Co-op to stop stocking them altogether.
"Thousands of people have called on retailers to stop selling lads' mags like Nuts and Zoo. The Co-operative's actions show our voices are being heard," she said.
"Yet the Co-operative are attempting to sell their customers short. The so-called 'modesty bags' they are demanding from publishers are designed to allow the Co-operative to continue profiting from sexist, harmful lads' mags — but just a bit more discreetly.
"That's not what corporate social responsibility looks like."
The junior minister at the government's Equalities Office, Jo Swinson, welcomed the move and hoped other retailers would support it as well.
"Many parents aren't comfortable with the way that sexualized imagery has become like wallpaper — everywhere from the bus stop to the corner shop," she said.
"Adults should be left to make their own decisions about what legal sexual images they look at, but the place for these is not next to the sweets at children's eye-level."
And existing guidelines for retailers regarding men's magazines say just that. They request that "lads' mags" should not be placed next to children's magazines or at child's height.
A statement from Bauer Media, which publishes Zoo magazine, said that it is aware of the Co-op's request, but that it continues to support the current best-practice guidelines.
"We are sensitive to the mood of the public, to that end we have responded accordingly and have changed Zoo magazine's cover imagery and phrasing," it said.
"We already have agreements in place with all major retailers, including Co-op, to ensure Zoo magazine is displayed appropriately and we work closely with all our retailers to ensure they are adhered to."