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ISM and MU co-launch code of practice to tackle bullying and harassment in the music industry

By | Published on Thursday 12 July 2018

Deborah Annetts & Naomi Pohl

The Incorporated Society Of Musicians and the Musicians’ Union have together launched a new code of practice to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination in the music sector, and they are calling on the wider UK music industry to sign up.

The new code follows conversations and discussions that occurred following the emergence of the #MeToo movement about sexism, sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry. Some of the issues raised apply to all industries but others are more specific to music, and some specifically to performers. For example, in the music industry, business and social occasions are arguably more likely to blur, and there are an unusually high number of self-employed people – especially among musicians and songwriters – who don’t have HR procedures to fall back on.

In ISM’s ‘Dignity At Work’ report, 86% of respondents called for a sector-wide code to address behavioural issues, prompting ISM and MU to collaborate on such a thing. The code includes commitments to proactively implement policies and practices that promote diversity in the workforce, improve corporate culture, encourage appropriate behaviour and ensure constructive feedback is acted upon. There are then specific commitments on how to deal with reports of bullying, harassment or discrimination.

Launching the code of practice, ISM CEO Deborah Annetts said this morning: ‘The ISM’s ‘Dignity At Work’ report revealed a culture of discriminatory behaviour, including sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination relating to all protected characteristics across the entire music sector. The respondents – who were mainly self-employed, ‘depping’ musicians and not covered under the Equality Act 2010 – did not report their experiences due to fear of being victimised and ‘blacklisted’, indicating a toxic culture which needs to change”.

Noting similar work elsewhere in the entertainment industry, she went on: “Following in the footsteps of the British Film Institute and UK Theatre/SOLT, who have [respectively] launched vital principles for the film and theatre industries, the ISM and Musicians’ Union have joined forces to launch a set of principles for the music sector. We call on all organisations – whether they are a venue, orchestra, school, recording studio or otherwise – to sign up and support this code and ensure its implementation within the work space”.

Speaking for the MU, Assistant General Secretary Naomi Pohl added: “When the #MeToo movement began in late 2017, the MU established a confidential email account for musicians and other individuals working in the music sector to report instances of sexism, sexual harassment and abuse. The many reports we have received have been deeply concerning and range from everyday sexism, which appears rife across the industry, to sexual assault. It is clear to us that the culture of the music and entertainment sectors, as well as drama and music education, need to change radically. To put it bluntly, many workplaces simply aren’t safe for female musicians in particular at the present time”.

“We know that many employers, venues and educational establishments are keen to work with us and we believe this new code of practice will be widely welcomed”, she continued. “While it isn’t the only available code of practice, it is unique in our sector because it has been drafted with freelance workers, performers and students in mind. Freelancers are particularly vulnerable to abuse as they may feel they have no rights and nowhere to turn for help. We want to ensure they feel supported at work and that we and their engagers have their safety and wellbeing as our top priority”.

Read the full code of practice here.