Gender equality groups have joined forces with 11 lawyers to launch a campaign to withdraw so-called ‘lads’ mags’ from shelves.

In an open letter published in the Guardian yesterday, UK Feminista and Object claimed the magazines “may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010”.

“High-street retailers are exposing staff and, in some cases, customers to publications whose handling and display may breach equality legislation,” they wrote in the letter.

“Displaying lads’ mags and pornographic papers in “mainstream” shops results in the involuntary exposure of staff and, in some cases, customers to pornographic images.

“Every mainstream retailer which stocks lads’ mags is vulnerable to legal action by staff and, where those publications are visibly on display, by customers. There are, in particular, examples of staff successfully suing employers in respect of exposure to pornographic material at work.

“Such exposure is actionable where it violates the dignity of individual employees or customers, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. We therefore call on such retailers to urgently heed the call to Lose the Lads’ Mags.

Lads’ mags have long been a controversial issue. In 2011, the big four all agreed to hide lads mags under plain covers following pressure from Mumsnet, while in 2009, MPs called for an urgent review of how pornographic magazines were displayed in stores.