UK supermarkets could be exposed to a legal challenge if they refuse to remove ‘lads mags’ from their shelves, lawyers have warned.

In a letter published in the Guardian, 14 equality lawyers said supermarkets and other retailers are vulnerable to legal challenges under sexual discrimination law.

The lawyers said that displaying publications “in workplaces, and/or requiring staff to handle them in the course of their jobs may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010”.

A campaign launched by UK Feminista and the anti-objectification organisation Object aims to put pressure on retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and WHSmith to remove lads mags. If they fail to act, lawyers are threatening to bring a test case to support employees uncomfortable with images of naked and near-naked women on the publications.

“For too long supermarkets have got off the hook, stocking lads’ mags in the face of widespread opposition, but this time we have the law on our side,” Kat Banyard, founder of UK Feminista, told The Guardian.

The lawyers’ letter backs the campaign and urges high-street retailers to immediately withdraw magazines featuring explicit covers.

It said: “High-street retailers are exposing staff and, in some cases, customers to publications whose handling and display may breach equality legislation.

“Every mainstream retailer which stocks lads’ mags is vulnerable to legal action by staff and, where those publications are visibly on display, by customers.”

However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) hit back and said retailers do not need reminding of their responsibilities to staff and customers.

“BRC members don’t sell anything it isn’t legal to sell and they have long followed joint industry guidelines, as well as taking their own independent voluntary action, to make sure that front covers which may concern some people are displayed discreetly.

“This is an area where fixed definitions are difficult. Our members regard their stores as family-friendly environments which is why conversations with staff and customers about what they believe is appropriate will continue.”