SHANGHAI — The death of a 14-year-old Russian model working in China has stirred controversy over the working conditions of models in the country, especially child workers.
Vlada Dzyuba’s death was confirmed by her agency Esee Model Management, which held a press conference on Monday to address her passing. According to the agency, she succumbed to sepsis on Oct. 27. The condition occurs when an infection spreads via the bloodstream and is usually found in people with weakened immune systems.
Esee stated that contrary to reports stating that Dzyuba died from extreme fatigue, she had only been sent on 16 assignments during her two months in the country, with most of them ending within an eight-hour time frame.
Globally, the issue of model protections is a thorny one, most recently reappearing in the spotlight due to reports of rampant sexual abuse. While countries such as France have taken measures to ban underweight models, a law that went into effect in May, and luxury conglomerates LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering in September signed a charter against the use of models under the age of 16, regulations for the Chinese modeling industry are few and far between.
According to the agency’s account, on the Tuesday leading up to her death, Dzyuba had been at a photo shoot in Yiwu, a city in central Zhejiang Province, and started feeling sick that evening at her hotel. The next day, as she was still feeling unwell, the agency canceled her assignment and had her return to Shanghai. She was taken to the emergency room of Shanghai Ruijin Hospital at 6 p.m. that evening and Russian consulate officials were contacted. On that Thursday, she was taken to intensive care, due to her deteriorating condition, and on Friday, at 7:36 a.m., she died as a result of multiple organ failures as well as liver and renal dysfunction brought on by sepsis.
She was last active on her Russian social media account, VK.com, at 10:16 a.m. China Standard Time on Wednesday.
The Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Shanghai did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Esee, a well-known agency with offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xiamen and Hangzhou, had signed a three-month contract with Dzyuba. The company provided WWD with a copy of a work permit notification form, in which her name is spelled as Dziuba. The company stated that this followed the spelling of her name in her passport, although her social media accounts spell it with a “y.” Esee said all of its models enter China on legal working visas.
Chinese labor laws consider an employee under the age of 16 to be a child laborer. According to Article 15 of the PRC Labor Law, employers are prohibited from recruiting minors under the age of 16, with exceptions made for institutions of literature, art, physical culture and special crafts. These recruitment exceptions must be investigated and approved by the government authorities, however, and must guarantee minors’ rights to compulsory education.
Poor living conditions are common to the industry in China, said Chris Chang, designer and founder of Poesia, a women’s wear brand that shows at Shanghai Fashion Week. Combined with industry pressures for models to keep their weight down and thin protections for child workers, modeling can extract a heavy toll.
“All this can be detrimental to a child’s mental and physical well-being,” Chang said. “It’s unfortunate that these agencies, and models themselves, need to get as much work as possible to make their short stay in China worthwhile. They were probably underfed, overworked and partying hard at night. The combination of all these things can be life-threatening. It’s sad that the industry in general exploits young beautiful girls enamored with money and fame.”