Fashion chain Ted Baker has launched an investigation into claims of “forced hugging” by the firm’s boss.

It comes after an online petition demanded the company should set up a way of reporting allegations of harassment to an independent body.

Ted Baker has defended its founder and chief executive Ray Kelvin, but insisted the claims, said to have been made by staff members, will be looked into.

Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon

Ted Baker statement

The petition on workplace site Organise had attracted 1,890 signatures by Sunday evening.

In a statement, Ted Baker said: “It is critically important to us that every member of our staff feels valued and respected at work.

“Ray greets many people he meets with a hug, be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague.

“Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon.”

The firm said it is in dialogue with Organise to “understand the details and nature of the claims” after being made aware of the petition.

“We have very clear and robust HR policies in place to provide all employees with a wide range of reporting options for any issues that they might encounter, including a completely confidential and anonymous 24/7 helpline,” the statement said.

“While the claims made are entirely at odds with the values of our business and those of our CEO, we take them very seriously and will ensure that a thorough independent investigation is carried out.

“We will then carefully consider the content and recommendations of that report.”