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“Wholesale cultural change” required to stop sexual harassment in music industry, says MU

By | Published on Tuesday 21 November 2017

Musicians' Union

The UK’s Musicians’ Union has announced that, at a meeting with its counterparts from across the Nordic region in Stockholm last week, it was agreed that tackling sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry must now be made a priority.

The decision came as 1993 women working in the Swedish music industry called out sexism and sexual harassment in the sector in an open letter that also shared some of those women’s harrowing personal experiences of harassment and abuse in the workplace. Meanwhile reports have surfaced that a senior executive at a Swedish major record company has been suspended due to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

As previously reported, a much more frank conversation about sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry has been taking place ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in Hollywood, and particularly since the #metoo movement began.

In the open letter published in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Friday, women working from across the entire music sector called for a radical overhaul of a corporate culture that allows sexism, sexual harassment and sexual abuse to be such common place, and which makes victims afraid that speaking out will damage their career prospects.

The MU in the UK had already staged meetings in London and Manchester to discuss issues around sexual harassment and abuse in the music business with its members. Last week’s meeting in Stockholm had actually been convened to discuss streaming royalties, but so pressing has this issue become, it topped the agenda.

Following the meeting, the unions representing musicians in the UK, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland stated: “All the union representatives at the Stockholm meeting agreed that tackling the problem should be prioritised. It was agreed that the unions will, in the first instance, initiate a process of evidence gathering through confidential surveys and through the creation of an environment where members feel safe in sharing their experiences”.

The statement continued: “The unions will also liaise with employers, engagers and other areas of the industry in order to involve all stakeholders. Following this, appropriate advice and support mechanisms utilising trained officers and officials will be introduced to tackle the problem head on”.

The unions also confirmed that they would take the matter to the International Federation Of Musicians to demand this issue be prioritised on a worldwide basis too.

Reporting on the meeting, MU Assistant General Secretary Naomi Pohl wrote last week: “The feeling around the table was a wish that we had realised the scale of the problem earlier, so we could have intervened and acted on behalf of victims and survivors of sexism, sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse at work”.

She continued: “While abuse of power occurs in all industries, in the entertainment industries there is the carrot and stick of success and exclusion that makes the imbalance of power especially stark and open to abuse. While we regularly deal with such cases for MU members, they are individual, isolated from a bigger picture and often subject to confidentiality agreements that end up protecting the victim but also the perpetrator, masking the true scale of the problem”.

Discussing the recent meetings the MU ran to discuss this issue with its members, Pohl added: “We heard stories ranging from every day sexism and apathy towards it, to stories of abuse with long lasting consequences”.

Those meetings also revealed a continued fear about the career consequences of victims speaking out about harassment and abuse, while others admitted some confusion about what is acceptable and unacceptable in an environment where the unacceptable is too often accepted. Continued Pohl: “One musician told us how she turned to Google to work out if she had been sexually assaulted or not”.

Echoing the sentiments of the open letter published in Dagens Nyheter, Pohl concluded: “We need nothing short of wholesale cultural change in our industry, for every musician to understand what is acceptable in a workplace and what is not”.

As the campaign rallies to address this issue once and for all, further reports of past misconduct by artists and music industry executives continue to be unearthed.

While Dagens Nyheter was publishing last week’s open letter, another Swedish newspaper – AftonBladet – was reporting that a top record industry executive in the country had been suspended following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Although AftonBladet didn’t name the exec or his employer, multiple sources say he works at Warner Music Sweden.

The Swedish tabloid report contained allegations that not only had the accused exec made inappropriate sexual advances to young female employees and artists, but he had also promoted an unhealthy work culture at the major.

A spokesperson for the record company in question told AftonBladet last week: “We take these allegations very seriously. We have suspended the person in question while an independent investigation is conducted. We have also held an internal meeting for our local team in Stockholm reiterating the ways concerns and complaints can be made”.