The state treasurers of Nevada, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, California, and Oregon are calling on Activision Blizzard to take action to address concerns expressed in November by shareholder group SOC Investment Group, and have requested a meeting with the company’s board of directors to discuss the matter further.
SOC Investment Group, known for its criticism of the excessive pay being drawn by executives at Activision and Electronic Arts, formally called for the resignation or removal of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick in November over the “unprecedented workplace crisis” at the company. It also called on the Activision Blizzard board of directors to take meaningful steps to address the problems facing the company, including an external investigation into how and why the “frat boy” culture was allowed to flourish, and increasing diversity and inclusion on the board itself.
In a letter sent to Activision Blizzard on November 23, the six state treasurers requested a meeting with the board of directors “to discuss your response to the challenges and investment risk exposures that face Activision” that were outlined by the SOC Investment Group.
“We share the many concerns articulated in this [SOC Investment Group] letter, and we are eager to know the actions that the board will take in response to these concerns as we weigh the letter’s call to vote against the re-election of the incumbent directors,” the treasurers’ letter states.
State treasurers wield significant financial clout that they can bring to bear in different ways. As Axios noted, for instance, New York’s $226 billion pension fund recently announced that it is dropping fossil fuel stocks, a move that could help accelerate a market shift away from oil and gas companies; other states have threatened to pull assets and investments from banks that do withdraw from fossil fuel firms. It’s all very political, and while it isn’t clear how heavily state institutions are invested in Activision Blizzard, the sheer amount of money at their disposal is bound to get the board’s attention. At the very minimum this sort of high-visibility pressure makes for more attention Activision Blizzard surely doesn’t want right now..
The letter makes no mention of Kotick specifically, but some of the treasurers were strongly critical of Activision Blizzard leadership as a whole in separate statements provided by For the Long Term, a public charity aimed at helping municipal and state treasurers “leverage the power of their offices to deliver sustainable long-term growth.” For the Long Term also helped organize the initial letter from the treasurers.
“Silence in the face of pervasive harassment, abuse, and discrimination is inexcusable, and Activision Blizzard’s board of directors has shown that right now, they are unprepared to steer the company forward from this turmoil,” Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine said. “We need to hear from the board and see results. Robust oversight is non-negotiable.”
“No one should be harassed or abused at work. But through their silence, that’s exactly what it seems that Activision Blizzard’s leadership and board directors have allowed to happen,” Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs said. “Activision’s board has a chance right now to take on the reforms needed to protect workers and create a safe, inclusive workplace culture. Doing so is not only good for their business and workers, but it’s key to prevent any further damage to the company’s long-term value.”
A representative of For the Long Term said in an email sent to PC Gamer that it received a response from Activision Blizzard on November 30, and subsequently submitted a request to meet specifically with board members Dawn Ostroff and Reveta Bowers. Ostross and Bowers were selected to lead the new Workplace Responsibility Committee Activision Blizzard announced in November.
Activision Blizzard has been under fire since California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against it in July, alleging widespread discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. But the criticism has grown more intense in the wake of a November report that Kotick had been aware of at least some of the allegations but failed to act on them, and had in fact protected at least one studio head from a complaint of sexual harassment: Activision Blizzard employees immediately staged a walkout demanding Kotick’s removal, and the heads of PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo all publicly condemned the company’s treatment of its employees. The National Legal and Policy Center, a political activist group, has also called on Coca-Cola to remove Kotick from its board of directors.