A vacant M&S food store in Bristol is being rented out to Hooters – a US restaurant chain where waitresses wear skimpy uniforms.
The move has sparked outrage from mothers and Marks and Spencer faces a customer boycott.
The move is especially embarrassing for M&S as the retailer has already declared its backing for the “Let Girls Be Girls” campaign.
The campaign aims to curb the premature sexualisation of children by asking retailers not to sell products which “play upon, emphasise or exploit their sexuality”.
A local petition against the planned opening of the Hooters store has attracted over 1,000 signatures. Protestors say the site is close to a residential block housing young families.
Sian Norris, founder of the Say No to Hooters in Bristol protest group, said of the restaurant chain: “People say it’s just a bit fun. But it’s part of a culture where women are only seen as sexual objects, not as full human beings.”
Marks and Spencer defended the decision to sublet the site, saying it was a “commercial decision”.
Sian Norris responded: “We can also make commercial decisions. A lot of people have said they are no longer going to shop at M&S. It’s each individual’s choice, but we would encourage that.”
Now mothers on the online parenting network, Mumsnet, have spoken out.
Belinda Benton, 39, a mother-of-two from Cambridge, said she was “appalled” by the retailer’s decision. “I have always shopped at Marks and Spencer but no more,” she said.
Anna van Heeswijk, campaign coordinator for women’s rights group Object, described Hooters restaurants as “sexist and outdated”.
She added: “We are deeply concerned that M&S, which brands itself as an ethical, family-orientated store, are supporting this form of sexual exploitation of women.
“They are based on the idea that women exist to look sexy for men, they promote negative stereotypes of women as sex-objects, and they encourage sexual harassment in what is promoted as a family setting.”
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has voiced his concern about the sexualisation of society, and particularly its effects on children.