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exclusive News June 20, 2022

Universal Music Australia Faces Fresh Workplace Misconduct Investigation (EXCLUSIVE)

Universal Music Australia Faces Fresh Workplace Misconduct Investigation (EXCLUSIVE)
Pictured: UMA's Sydney office / Source: The World Is Round

Universal Music Group has launched a second investigation into alleged workplace misconduct at its Australian headquarters, multiple sources familiar with the complaints told TMN.

The latest investigation into the Australian operations is unfolding as the global music behemoth battles to transform its culture for the 21st century. Universal Music Australia is currently without a head of people and culture following the departure of Janine Ashton last year, and her replacement Tom Dale who left after just ten months in March per his LinkedIn.

It is understood that UMG’s Los Angeles-based executive vice president and chief people and inclusion officer, Eric Hutcherson, is leading the fresh probe into at least two complaints. A spokesperson for the major label declined to comment for this story.

It follows an external investigation last year – first reported by the Sydney Moring Herald’s Nathanael Cooper – into multiple claims of workplace bullying, harassment, racism, homophobia, discrimination, and more serious sexual assault allegations.

UMG appointed Darren Perry from law firm Seyfarth Shaw in August 2021 to lead the investigation, with the process concluding just three months later. George Ash, president of UMA, told Cooper at the time that he was “heartbroken” at the allegations, which included a complaint levied against him for an “insensitive” remark made during a meeting.

Ash hoped the investigation would act as a “catalyst” for change: “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,” he said at the time.

When the investigation began employees were invited to raise any concerns, however more than a dozen former and current employees – who spoke on the condition of anonymity – told TMN that a number of reported incidents were “swept under the rug,” leading to a lack of trust and confidence in the leadership of the world’s largest record label.

The findings were not broadly communicated to staff, but the conclusion of it was confirmed by Perry in an email to Australian workers that took part in the investigation on December 13 2021, and later acknowledged by some senior executives during an all-staff meeting.

Universal Music Investigation

Pictured: An email from external investigators to some UMA staffers

During that meeting, one widely-respected leader in the business directly challenged Hutcherson to address the circumstances surrounding the departure of Ben Facey following the investigation’s conclusion, but according to multiple people in attendance Hutcherson, appearing via video link, refused to make any comment on his exit.

Facey was with UMA for more than six years, most recently as head of international marketing and media in Sydney. In November 2020 he was catapulted into a global Los Angeles-based role with UMG-owned Republic Records, as executive vice president of global marketing and digital strategy, until his ousting last November.

TMN reached out to Facey but did not receive a response in time for publication.

As first reported by TMN on June 9, UMA announced a workplace Task Force program to help the business improve its culture. In a staff memo, Ash acknowledged the company “has some relics from the past” holding it back that “need to be addressed to move forward.”

“Investing in building a great culture for our people is our #1 priority,” he wrote. “We agreed that it was time to act – doing nothing is not an option. The leadership team’s job is to lead this work, and we are incredibly energised and committed. Culture will be on the agenda for a long time – several years – until it becomes a natural part of the business and how we think about success.”

Pictured: UMA president, George Ash

TMN understands the introduction of the Task Force — led by Ash and made up of leaders and staffers with a 50/50 gender split, along with a new Culture Council consisting of members from UMA’s wider leadership team — followed an employee survey about five weeks ago.

Filled out anonymously, sources privy to the results said the results found that more than 80% of employees don’t trust some leaders within UMA’s top ranks. The findings were not shared at a planned staff meeting on June 10, despite being told that they would be.

“There have been so many of these memos or staff notes, staff meetings and workshops, and we’ve seen no action,” one source told TMN.

Another employee told TMN they have “zero confidence” in the latest Task Force initiative.

“Staff have spoken up about serious issues, there have been formal investigations and nothing has changed. I think the only meaningful change at this point, would be a change in leadership.”

Other staffers are more hopeful that the culture shift will deliver on its charter, but that time is of the essence to ensure the company can be free of the “relics” that Ash mentioned in his memo.

“I hope this Task Force works because to date there’s been a lot of talk and no action around actually improving the culture,” another source said.

Added another insider: “While the creation of the task forces is promising, meaningful actions of change will need to be shown quickly to give people confidence that the process will succeed. Universal Music doesn’t have diversity in its leadership and this needs to be addressed rapidly.”

Ash noted that the task forces will be “committed to focusing on the areas of diversity, leadership, career, safety, wellbeing & joy, collaboration, and values.”

TMN is not suggesting any wrongdoing by Ash, Ashton, Dale, Facey or any other UMA executive.

This is a developing story. Know something we don’t? Email any tips to [email protected] or contact the writers directly.

How did we get here? A timeline of Universal Music Australia’s Culture Crisis:

August 9, 2021: Universal Music Australia Launches Workplace Culture Investigation
October 6, 2022: Ben Facey Out of Universal Music
June 9, 2022: UMA Launches Culture Task Force: Read The Internal Memo (EXCLUSIVE)

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