How a New Anti-Bullying and Harassment Standards Authority in the U.K. Plans to Shake Up the Industry
As the U.K. creative industries take steps to combat bullying and harassment, the hope among many in the film and TV sector is that a newly formed organization called the Creative Industry Independent Standards Authority will serve as a crucial bellwether for change.
Jen Smith is the inaugural interim CEO of the org, which is better known as CIISA. A U.K. organization similar in mission to the Hollywood Commission, it has been years in the making, set up in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Currently, the organization is still in its development phase, with an eye to launch next year.
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What is clear is that, unlike its U.S. counterpart, CIISA will oversee all the U.K’s creative industries, from films and television to games and fashion. In January, the Society of London Theatres and U.K. Theatre confirmed their support for CIISA, followed this week by U.K. Music, the music industry’s largest body.
The hope, Smith says, is the organization will not only exist to step in when things go wrong, but to inspire change across the creative industries. “We have a preventative value by virtue of our existence,” Smith tells Variety. “I think we will have a very positive role in shifting cultural norms of behaviour over time.”
Ahead of her first panel about CIISA at Creative Coalition U.K. on Friday, Smith sat down with Variety to discuss how CIISA will work and why its launch is a vital next step in tackling bullying and harassment.
How would you describe CIISA?
What CIISA will be is a single point of accountability for the creative industries which is addressing a void where we don’t currently have an independent place for people to report behaviours of concern. This is an exciting, deliberately different intervention that is very necessary to break the cycle of harmful behaviour that we know is such a significant problem across the creative industries.
In terms of how it’s going to work, do organizations and companies need to sign up to be regulated?
We are a standards authority, not a regulator, so don’t have statutory powers. But that’s a model that works in other sectors, so for example, the Advertising Standards Authority is a good example of voluntary-funded model where people wanted to have a body that could create accountability across their sector. We will be relying on voluntary contributions coming in from key organizations across the sectors. But equally, we’re also there for member bodies, for charities, for smaller production companies, but crucially, for freelancers, because they sit in this void where often it’s unclear where they go to, they aren’t necessarily afforded all the protections in employment law and the freelancers are the lifeblood of our industry. We have a responsibility as an ecosystem across the creative sector to ensure that our talented workforce are protected.
So if there is a situation at a small production company that is not signed up to CIISA, someone could still report that?
We would want to know. We’d record any calls that came in to us and we want to know people’s lived experience on the ground. But what we will do is operate on the basis that we are the place of last resort. We aren’t an appeals body. So we’re working with our partners within the support lines and the unions so existing routes of resolution through HR etc have to be exhausted.
What kinds of cases are you expecting to take on? And with the more serious cases, where there are allegations of criminality, will CIISA handle those or will they be passed on to police?
We’re actually working closely with the police and we have a former police officer as part of the set-up team to make sure that we handle cases appropriately and that we hand them over at the appropriate point. So we’re in that dialogue. We wouldn’t seek to duplicate existing processes so if issues have another place of resolution, then we will make sure that we triage them appropriately and that they go to the right place. We will have a skilled triage team who are looking at the cases that come in and if we consider this to be a potentially criminal matter, with the person raising the issue we would hand it over.
For the cases that CIISA does take on, who will actually investigate them?
It will be an independent investigations panel. So it will be a skilled, independently appointed investigations panel that have a legal adviser, but we’ll be able to provide more detail on that in four to six weeks.
Where the CIISA investigatory panel does take on a case, what are the potential outcomes?
Well, not everything will be an investigation. Investigations will be for the most serious and complex cases. There are many other services that people can access: mediation, alternative dispute resolution, triage advice to get your issue to the right place. The panel will have a range of recommendations that they will make. We believe that we’re acting in the public interest and the overriding golden thread for any standards authority is prevention from harm and workplace safety. So that’s absolutely the basis of how we make our recommendations but they will always be fair, proportional considered and given them by expert advisors who are very skilled in this arena. That’s really as much as I can say at this stage but obviously, we’re working on very detailed investigation procedures with experts who have done this work for many years.
What would you say to people who might question why the industry needs CIISA when there are already laws and HR policies protecting workers?
There aren’t bodies that investigate poor behaviour across the creative industries. We’re a unique proposition and we address a void and a gap. And that’s been clearly illustrated with high-profile cases in recent years. There is a real need now for a circuit breaker and for something deliberately different as an intervention. CIISA is deliberately different. Nobody at the moment has the ability to investigate, offers early dispute resolution, etc. And as I said, we’re very, very clear about how we will work with our union partners and existing support lines and how we sit in the ecosystem so that we don’t duplicate or fragment people’s experience. But we sit in that significant gap at the moment of one collective point of accountability. There’s nowhere – there’s no single point – where you could raise concerns about somebody who might be moving across film, TV, theatre and music who is a serial perpetrator of harm, and that’s why CIISA is unique.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
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