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Gary Younge
Race bias attack on top model agency

Some of the senior figures within Elite - the agency which counts Naomi Campbell as one of its greatest assets - were filmed calling blacks "niggers" and saying that Africa would be "a great country if they were all white".

The Guardian has seen footage not used in last night's broadcast of the BBC programme MacIntyre Undercover, which includes racist comments from other senior figures in the industry who determine the face and look of international fashion.

In one exchange a chaperone for Elite models explains that black women are rarely used in the capital of the fashion world, Milan. "In Milano they can never use a black girl or an oriental. Very few," says Daniele Bianco.

In another scene two executives are watching football in a hotel room. "We need some nigger," says director of Elite Model Fashion, Roberto Caan. "We need two or three niggers for France from Africa, in the defence, like Desailly."

In a further exchange over a meal, Xavier Moreau, president of the Elite Model Look Contest, the world's largest modelling contest, says of Swaziland and other African nations: "It would be a great country if they were all white. So sad." He then laughs, slaps a colleague's hand in agreement and says: "I don't like black girls." His colleague, Olivier Daube, responds: "I am not too keen on them too."

Last night, Lorraine Caggiano, Elite's executive assistant said she did not want to comment until she had seen the programme. "We don't know whether it was said in jest, taken out of context or whatever," she said. However, Mr Moreau, and Mr Daube, director of recruitment at Elite New York, have been suspended pending an internal investigation.

Sources close to Ms Campbell last night said they were "shocked and disgusted" at the remarks. "We all knew racism in the industry was bad but I don't think anybody expected that it would come from the company that is supposed to be promoting such a high profile model as Naomi."

The racist comments shed new light on complaints about the "narrow mindedness" of the industry made by Ms Campbell three years ago. She claimed that racism was behind her removal from a Vogue cover in favour of a white model. "This business is about selling - and blonde and blue-eyed girls are what sells," she said.

After hearing the comments, a spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality said: "Is there nobody in that conversation who's going to stop and say: 'Hang on a minute. Unless these ideas are challenged they fester on'. "

The exposé of the inherent racism in the industry is the latest in a string of allegations to emerge from the BBC's MacIntyre Undercover series. In last night's programme, which focused on the fashion industry, it emerged that two other employees have been suspended after boasting about their sexual exploits with younger models. The film shows Gerald Marie, European president of Elite, saying he is planning to have sex with teenage girls who have made it to the final of a modelling competition. It also exposes a model booker with Marilyn Models, a French agency, in the act of supplying cocaine to a top English model, without the agency's knowledge.

Yesterday, the BBC defeated legal moves to prevent the broadcast by Marilyn Models, whose employee is exposed as dealing drugs.

Elite has also threatened criminal proceedings against the BBC alleging that the covert filming methods used were illegal. Global reach of Elite groupFounded in Paris in 1971 by John Casablancas, Elite is the world's largest modelling agency with 25 offices worldwide and a turnover of $100m (£62.5m). With its headquarters in New York since 1977, Elite represents approximately 500 models on five continents, including Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Amber Valletta. The Elite Model Look contest is the world's biggest annual search for modelling talent, involving 60 countries, and attracts 350,000 girls whose average age is 15.

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