Ubisoft S'pore under probe over workplace complaints

Watchdog probing S'pore office of French game giant over alleged unfairness, sexual harassment

A 2015 file photo of the central meeting room in Ubisoft Singapore's office. The company says it has employed a third-party agency to handle workplace complaints and anonymous feedback from whistle-blowers.
A 2015 file photo of the central meeting room in Ubisoft Singapore's office. The company says it has employed a third-party agency to handle workplace complaints and anonymous feedback from whistle-blowers. ST FILE PHOTO

The national watchdog for fair employment practices is investigating the Singapore office of French video-game developer Ubisoft - of Assassin's Creed fame - over claims of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.

This is even as the multinational corporation emphasised its commitment to developing local talent and said it has employed a third-party agency to handle workplace complaints and anonymous feedback from whistle-blowers.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) told The Straits Times last week that it received anonymous feedback on July 23 containing links to media articles about allegations of workplace harassment and unfair treatment at Ubisoft Singapore.

Tafep urged anyone with knowledge of any criminal conduct such as sexual harassment and assault to immediately report such incidents to the police.

Last month, video-game news site Kotaku published reports about sexual harassment and workplace discrimination at Ubisoft Singapore, based on interviews with over 20 current and former employees of the studio.

The firm has about 500 employees here, and it told Kotaku that 40 per cent of expert and senior expert roles are held by Singaporeans or permanent residents.

Asked about the allegations at a press event on Aug 6, Ubisoft Singapore managing director Darryl Long, who took over in January, said: "It's very important that we can talk about these things and that we acknowledge what's going on in our industry right now...

"We need to start to change the way we are perceived and the way we act internally as well."

A #MeToo movement has been sweeping across the video-game industry. Last month, Ubisoft was sued in France by a French workers' union and former Ubisoft staff over accusations of "institutional harassment".

Earlier this month, a US fair employment government agency sued Call Of Duty and World Of Warcraft maker Activision Blizzard over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women that had gone on for years.

In Singapore, when Tafep investigates cases of harassment, employers may be tasked to carry out an investigation through interviews with affected parties and witnesses, and to review documented evidence.

Tafep may also require them to implement new policies to prevent future incidents.

Workplace discrimination on the basis of issues like age, gender, race, religion and language could result in the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) Fair Consideration Framework being breached, said Mr Ian Lim, head of employment and labour at TSMP Law Corporation.

If so, MOM could bar the company from applying for new work passes for foreign staff, or renewing existing ones, for between 12 and 24 months.

Where sexual misconduct involves criminal offences such as molestation, the police will investigate such offences reported, said litigation lawyer Amolat Singh.

Those found guilty can be fined and/or jailed, and, in some cases, caned too.

There could also be legal recourse under the Protection from Harassment Act for sexual misconduct, as well as workplace bullying, said Mr Singh, managing partner at Amolat & Partners.

There are two routes: The civil one involves legal actions like suing the accused for damages or requesting a protection order. The criminal route needs a report to be filed with the police. Criminal penalties include fines and/or jail.

Mr Singh said companies should report sexual harassment allegations to the police for investigation instead of handling it internally, to circumvent any situations of conflict of interest.

"Victims might feel there was unfairness, there were no proper investigations and nobody took their feedback seriously," he said of company investigations that find no wrongdoing was committed.

When contacted about the allegations of discrimination, Ubisoft Singapore said it invested into a dedicated learning path to support Singaporeans and help staff take on leadership opportunities here.

"Compensation is determined by role, responsibility, market practices and performance," it said.

Mr Long said the studio does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or misconduct of any kind.

Citing how it has hired a third-party agency to look into complaints, he added: "We have taken concrete action to formalise how misconduct is dealt with."

Ubisoft Singapore has also pledged to the Singapore Women In Tech government initiative to increase gender diversity and provide management opportunities to more women, who now form around half of the studio's leadership, he said. "These are done to create a safe workspace."

He added: "I understand that Ubisoft Singapore has been mentioned in the news lately... I acknowledge that the studio has seen some challenges over the past decade and there is still work to be done about our studio culture."

Correction note: This story has been updated for accuracy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2021, with the headline Ubisoft S'pore under probe over workplace complaints. Subscribe