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Universal Music sets out the agenda of its Taskforce For Meaningful Change

By | Published on Friday 5 June 2020

Universal Music

Universal Music has announced more details about the taskforce it is setting up in response to the protests that have taken place in the US and beyond following the controversial death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

Ahead of this week’s Black Out Tuesday initiative – that sought to unite the music industry behind the Black Lives Matter movement – the major’s CEO Lucian Grainge said that the company would immediately appoint a team of its executives “to accelerate our efforts in areas such as inclusion and social justice”.

The major’s General Counsel Jeff Harleston, who is also interim CEO of its Def Jam division in the US, and Ethiopia Habtemariam, who is both President of Motown Records and EVP of the Capitol Music Group, have now updated staff on what that really means via a lengthy memo.

They write: “We are living through some of the most challenging times in recent history. While the black community has long lived with the reality of police violence, the events of the past several weeks have been devastating. From the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to the senseless killing of numerous protestors fighting for justice, and the appalling, racially charged confrontation in New York’s Central Park, we all have had a front row seat, once again, in the theatre of racism, hatred and intolerance”.

“The problems we are addressing are not new and they certainly do not have easy solutions”, they go on, “but we are dedicated to fighting for real, lasting change. As Lucian wrote, UMG has committed resources and empowered us to create a taskforce to be both a resource and ally to our internal and external community”.

Under the banner of the Taskforce For Meaningful Change, Harleston and Habtemariam say that they – and a team of other Universal execs, many from the US, but also including reps from around the world – will be “charged with reviewing the company’s commitment to addressing and promoting tolerance, equality, and elimination of bias, within UMG, the music community and the world at large”.

They confirm that a $25 million ‘change fund’ has been established and outline six main areas of focus for the new taskforce. Pushing for political, legsilative and social change in the US is the priority, although the taskforce’s remit will also go beyond that.

The main areas of focus include supporting relevant charitable and campaigning organisations; reviewing the Universal Music Group’s own policies; considering these issues on a global basis; lobbying US lawmakers for reform and change; collaborating with the major’s partners to ensure a diversity of insights and ideas; and promoting “dialogue, counselling, educational and creative programming around the topics of tolerance, equality and inclusion”.

With regard to its own policies, the memo states: “We know that we have work to do within our own company and the taskforce will examine UMG’s policies, procedures and work environment as they apply to our workforce. This includes identifying issues of bias, discrimination and inequality, and designing initiatives to improve access, advancement, recruiting and retention of diverse workforce at all levels within the company. In particular, we will focus on leadership positions and other senior level roles”.

After also setting out a more practical list of short-term activities – including employee events, immediate grant funding, encouraging staff to send letters to US politicians, supporting schemes to get more people out to vote and offering free legal support to campaigning groups – Harleston and Habtemariam conclude: “We know our community, colleagues, artists and partners are suffering. We feel it and we’re living it but we’re also energised to fight for change. We’re asking for you to lock arms with us – we want to hear your voice. Now is the time to be heard!”