Former female employees of independent bookstore BooksActually revealed in a Rice Media article on Saturday (Sep. 25) that founder Kenny Leck had allegedly harassed staff and withheld pay from one of them.
The Rice exposé included the accounts of former employees, among them Renée Ting, who was once married to Leck.
Leck allegedly withheld pay from ex-wife
Ting detailed in the article how Leck had pursued her romantically when she joined as an employee at 19.
Ting and Leck soon became a couple, and Ting began devoting all her time and attention to the bookstore.
For six years after that, Ting claimed that she barely had a day off and would rarely get paid.
She recounted how she would spend nights sleeping at the back of the store. This, another ex-employee alleged, was Leck's reason for not paying Ting a salary, as he was already "housing" her in the bookstore.
According to Ting, Leck would also speak badly of her sisters, and Ting eventually distanced herself from them.
Without much of a social life outside of BooksActually, Ting became intertwined with Leck and the bookstore, and found it difficult to separate the personal from the professional.
Ting eventually divorced Leck.
Made unwelcome advances towards employees
According to Rice, Leck would almost exclusively hire younger, female women in their early twenties.
One of these women was 22 at the time when Leck first made romantic advances towards her.
Leck would later become romantically involved with another employee at the store, a 20-year-old girl.
Some ex-employees told Rice that they were hesitant to speak up, citing how Leck would at times insinuate that he would use his connections to destroy any chances the people who offended him would have in a career in the arts.
He would also make allusions to his gang associations from his polytechnic days.
Other staff however waved these claims off, Rice also acknowledged that the claims might appear "overextended" to neutral observers.
BooksActually fans express shock, call for boycott
Members of the public have come forward expressing their disbelief that Singapore's foremost independent bookstore had harboured such a dark history:
BooksActually was a fixture in my Singapore visits, and Kenny a welcoming and helpful presence that kept me returning. Apparently there was a toxic darkness roiling within the warm wooden interiors. I hope the BA women find peace, and justice. https://t.co/dL402drb35— Oda Lissa K (@oda_lissa) September 25, 2021
Still reeling from this piece. It is genuinely upsetting on many levels. One of them being that the belief in the bookstore/the man propping up the literary community was itself exploited to facilitate repeated predatory behaviour https://t.co/XDUYLlXXzI— Sylvia Koh (@sylvkoh) September 25, 2021
Some also questioned how the literary scene in Singapore could have been so unaware of such events:
Built on uneasy compromises: The young women behind BooksActually speak up https://t.co/fqG5kdEz3n— Kwan Jin Yao (@guanyinmiao) September 25, 2021
This is fucking awful. Also, how many of the writers/authors/poets chummy with Kenny and BooksActually and/or Math Paper Press were aware of these developments?
As someone who wants to make it as a writer in sg, I probably shouldn't share this but it blows my mind how this has been an open secret for so long. https://t.co/xsmcnkGEjR— Myle Yan Tay (@myleyantay) September 25, 2021
Some have also called for a boycott of BooksActually, and their publishing arm, Math Paper Press:
But it doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get them justice.— daun keladi #Lawan 🏴 (@itsdaunkeladi) September 25, 2021
If you're following BooksActually on social media, unfollow them immediately. DO NOT purchase anything from their shop.
Boycott BooksActually and remember the face of this abuser pic.twitter.com/dtYWcg6aW9
Hi besties, if any of you are living in Singapore or Philippines and buy books from this store called “BooksActually” pls read this article and stop buying from them https://t.co/XzqxO1aRPp— Ag 🍭 (@xu_youyis) September 25, 2021
Writer Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh released a statement regarding the situation.In it he said that he will not be doing any more work with BooksActually until Leck has addressed the allegations "properly" and sought help to change "this extremely troubling pattern of behaviour" to all affected parties’ satisfaction.
On Sep. 26, BooksActually released a statement.
In it, they acknowledged that staff did not work "in a safe and professional workplace environment" in the early years of the store.
It added that it is "deeply saddened" to learn of these experiences.
The store also highlighted how they have put welfare practices since 2019 such as regular working hours, timely payment of salaries, and one-hour lunch breaks, to safeguard staff.
It will also continue to improve its staff welfare and HR practices, as well as strengthen its anti-harassment policies, in order to "build a better, stronger and more accountable BooksActually".
"BooksActually is an entity and ecosystem bigger than any individual," it said.
The statement also revealed that Leck will relinquish sole ownership of the store and Math Paper Press. He will transfer collective ownership of both entities to the team.
BooksActually urged everyone to respect their wellbeing and need for privacy during this period, and added that Leck will be putting out his own statement soon.
Leck told both Rice and The Straits Times (ST) that the allegations are untrue. He added that he and his partner of three years declined to provide additional comments to ST.
Mothership has reached out to Leck on Sep. 25 for comment. Leck’s team replied on his behalf and called for privacy for the team.
Mothership will update the story when he replies.
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top photos via Kenny Leck/LinkedIn and BooksActually/FB