Industry bodies in the U.K. representing agents, publishers, bookseller and authors have agreed to a "Commitment to Professional Behaviour," a new code of conduct to stamp out sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, and intimidation.

The first Industry Commitment to Professional Behaviour in Bookselling and Publishing has been created and endorsed by the U.K.'s Association of Authors’ Agents (AAA), the Booksellers Association, the Publishers Association, and the Society of Authors.

The industry was prompted to work together "to set out the high professional standards that we should expect from one another," after revelations of sexual harassment last year in a Bookseller survey and a subsequent blog post by Lizzy Kremer from David Higham Associates, who is now president of the AAA.

After initial soundings, it became apparent that as well as sexual harassment, there were other universally shared concerns about behaviour and conduct. The Commitment issued today therefore also includes freedom of speech, diversity and inclusion as a well as sexual and other harassment, discrimination, bullying, and intimidation.

Four key principles have been agreed upon:

  1. "We in the books industry support creative expression and freedom of speech. However, our creative realm is also a professional one and we expect high standards of behavior from everyone we encounter in the course of our work, including colleagues and customers."
  2. "We will protect the passion, imagination, and creativity of everyone in the books industry. We will celebrate and promote diversity and inclusion so that all voices can be heard."
  3. "We will recognise our influence and make a commitment to work together to prevent abuse of power, creating a work environment free of discrimination, harassment including sexual harassment, bullying, and intimidation."
  4. "We will ensure that everyone in our industry is treated with dignity and respect so that individuals are supported and able to speak out."

The full commitment was issued to members of all organizations on the morning of December 7 and published on the front pages of the trade associations’ websites.

Kremer said: "Working together as trade associations and colleagues over the last several months to write down our ideals and aims, we have provoked discussion of what 'professional behavior' means to us across every echelon of the business we love.

"I am excited that we can now open up our conversation to the whole industry. We invite all of our colleagues to join with us in our commitment to articulating, creating and protecting a professional environment of which we can feel proud, and in which we can all work safely and with dignity.

"As readers and writers we hold the value of text and of language in high esteem and can do better than to simply assume that we all agree on the most important issues, such as the vital importance of creating workplaces free of harassment and discrimination. It is only fitting that an industry fueled and inspired by the written word should have taken exceptional steps to collaborate on a written commitment.

"In a business which can often seem to have relatively horizontal hierarchies, and in which we enjoy plenty of informal contact, it is easy to overlook the situations in which we have more power than the colleagues with whom we are working. The commitment urges us each to take responsibility for preventing any abuse of power, whether that be through careful monitoring of our own actions, or watchful protection of those colleagues with less influence than us. As well as reminding us of our individual and corporate responsibility in every workplace, whether that be office, festival, party or rights fair; those who endorse the commitment will be pledging their support to any colleague who feels that they have been subject to inappropriate behavior."

Booksellers Association managing director Meryl Halls said: "Bookselling and publishing expect and demand high standards of professional, respectful behavior from everyone encountered in the course of work, including colleagues, customers, and other industry professionals. This is the first time the BA has worked with this number of other representative groups on the production of a joint commitment of this nature, and we are proud to issue this in unison. This affects all of us and we are speaking with one voice supporting dignity at work. The commitment exhorts people to support one another and take action by Listening Up; Speaking Up; and Standing Up.

"We come together representing very diverse memberships and unfortunately, as trade associations rather than merely employers, we are not able to implement a trade complaints and enforcement procedure. But we know that words matter and this commitment matters. We hope to inspire colleagues to be more aware, more sensitive to others, and to behave appropriately. It is particularly important that it has been created jointly and endorsed by all of us, representing staff of all levels from across the industry."

Emma House, deputy CEO of the U.K. Publishers Association, said: "A document like this can’t ever be the whole answer, but we hope that it will be an important part of surfacing these issues, encouraging conversations and helping people feel confident that their industry is one that takes their dignity at work very seriously. Our intention is that the commitment is meaningful, helpful and makes people feel seen and supported. We also hope that businesses will use it alongside any existing policies they have or to help develop these if they don’t have them. We want to thank everyone who has fed into the process of developing the commitment, commented, and shared their experiences."

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, said: "Any statement worth making should be about more than words alone, so we intend the publication of this industry commitment not to be an endpoint but a milestone in ongoing cross-sector culture change. If we can share, repeat, and embed these core values, I hope we can ensure not only that everyone we work with is clear on appropriate behavior, but also that we can foster working environments where anyone, regardless of role, is treated with dignity and empowered to speak up when they feel the commitment is not being honored.

"At the Society of Authors, we’re taking today’s publication as an opportunity to refresh and clarify our own guidelines and policies for staff, members and all our partners when working with us. These also go live today, explicitly embedding the principles of the Industry Commitment into our daily interactions."

A longer version of the story appeared in BookBrunch.