Bobby Kotick, the highly-paid CEO of Activision Blizzard, released a statement to both employees and the wider public on July 27 detailing a plan to make Activision Blizzard a “safe and welcoming work environment,” including an external review of company policies by law firm WilmerHale. However, the firm’s connection to Fran Townsend, Activision Blizzard’s executive vice president for corporate affairs may raise questions about the independence of the review.
Townsend previously worked as the Department of Homeland Security advisor to former President George W. Bush and has a history of defending torture carried out under the administration. Multiple partners at WilmerHale, including former FBI Director Robert Mueller, have crossed paths with Townsend. The company is already a client of WilmerHale, according to a January letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
According to Kotick, Stephanie Avakian, a member of the firm’s management team, will lead the policy review to ensure Activision Blizzard has the “best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace.” WilmerHale is a top international law firm, with many of its lawyers recently leaving the firm to take positions in Joe Biden’s presidential cabinet.
“It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way,” Kotick wrote. “I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”
Kotick’s vague commitment to change
Activision Blizzard is in the middle of a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. It alleges that the company has a “frat boy” culture where women are regularly harassed and discriminated against. Employees are planning a walkout on July 28 at the company’s campus in Irvine, California.
This letter also included five generic points that Kotick said he hopes to improve on in the future:
- Investigating every employee claim and taking action when necessary.
- Hosting “listening sessions.”
- Evaluating all current managers.
- Adding compliance resources to hiring practice to ensure more diverse candidates are considered.
- Removing inappropriate in-game content.
Kotick’s statement is non-specific and typical as far as executive responses to controversies go. This sort of response is also not new in the gaming and esports industries. Riot Games and Ubisoft, two other companies who have been accused of fostering sexist cultures, also hired external firms to investigate company wrongdoings.