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Universal Music Australia launches investigation into inappropriate workplace culture

By | Published on Monday 9 August 2021

Universal Music

Universal Music has launched an internal investigation into inappropriate behaviour at its Australian offices according to the Sydney Morning Herald. It follows a similar investigation being instigated at the Australian division of Sony Music back in June.

The investigation at Universal was seemingly prompted by posts last month to an Instagram account called Beneath The Glass Ceiling, which collates “real life experiences working beneath the glass ceiling of the Australian music industry”. According to the Herald, a more formal internal complaint was also made by an employee in relation to a past incident within the company.

Among the bad conduct alleged at Universal Music Australia are multiple incidents of bullying, harassment, racism, homophobia and discrimination, as well as more serious allegations of sexual assault.

The President of the major’s Australian division, George Ash, acknowledged the various allegations that had been made online in a memo to staff at the end of last month, stating “as the leader of this company I take full responsibility for creating a respectful workplace culture for everyone”.

Then last week it was confirmed that law firm Seyfarth Shaw had been hired to investigate the various allegations that have been made regarding the major label division’s corporate culture. Staff were encouraged to raise all and any concerns they have through internal and external complaints channels.

Speaking to the Herald about the investigation, Ash said he was “heartbroken” to read the allegations that had been made about bad conduct and discrimination at his company, most of which related to incidents that happened while he was in charge.

“My initial response was ‘I don’t know whether the allegations are true or not’”, he told the newspaper, “but it made me think we haven’t done enough and we need to do more in our company. I need to step up and take responsibility”.

Staff say that issues with the corporate culture at Universal Music Australia were previously raised during an internal survey conducted by KPMG eighteen months ago. Respondents to that survey reportedly complained about a “toxic” workplace, and how the major’s Australian division was basically a “white male boys’ club”.

Ash told the Herald that he hoped the new investigation would be a “catalyst for change”, both within Universal and for the music industry in general. He added: “Before these [issues] were raised I thought we were doing an amazing job, [but] with these things being raised I need to make sure I respond to them. If there is any positive to come of this, it creates that catalyst for us to speak openly about things and hopefully address things to create a workplace culture that people can be proud of”.

Universal has revamped its HR operations in Australia since the KPMG survey was undertaken, and Ash insisted that he was confident the company is now in a position to deal with the issues that have been raised. As proof of that he noted a complaint that had been made about comments he himself had made during a Zoom call. “I had a complaint recently raised against myself around a joke I made in a Zoom meeting”, he admitted. “It was insensitive, and that went through the appropriate processes and I apologised to everyone in the company who was impacted by it”.

Sony Music’s global HQ in the US confirmed in June that an investigation was underway regarding the corporate culture at its Australian division. That confirmation followed the sudden departure of Sony Music Australia’s long-time chief Denis Handlin, who has been criticised for overseeing a toxic corporate culture at the major for decades.