Bernie Sanders And Other Senators Raise Concerns About Xbox’s Activision Blizzard Deal

Bernie Sanders and three other US senators have raised concerns about Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

“We are deeply concerned about consolidation in the tech industry and its impact on workers,” Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Sheldon Whitehouse wrote, per the Wall Street Journal.

According to a letter sent to the FTC (which you can see in the tweet below), the senators are worried that the acquisition could cause issues experienced by Activision Blizzard employees to be forgotten, or made harder to solve.

“Workers at Activision Blizzard, following years of rampant sexual misconduct and discrimination and unfair labor practices, have led calls for greater transparency and accountability in the gaming industry, and we are deeply concerned that this acquisition could further disenfranchise these workers and prevent their voices from being heard,” the senators’ letter reads.

“As this proposed deal moves forward in the review process, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should assess whether the ways in which these companies have failed to protect the rights and dignity of their workers are driven by monopsony power or amount to anticompetitive harms in our labor market, and if so, if the merger will exacerbate these problems.”

Activision Blizzard has been the subject of numerous accusations of sexual harassment and a ‘frat boy culture’.

The company recently settled one of the several ongoing lawsuits, creating an $18 million fund to compensate eligible claimants, as well as to continue enhancing policies, practices, and training to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace, not to mention engaging a third-party equal employment opportunity consultant approved by the EEOC.

A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard issued the following statement regarding the senators’ letter to Windows Central:

“The company is committed to a safe and equitable working environment for all employees and has invested significant resources to ensure we’re creating a model for the industry. The transaction between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard will not interrupt any of the actions the Activision Blizzard’s leadership team has implemented throughout 2021 and is continuing to implement in 2022 with regards to improving our workplace. Activision Blizzard’s leadership team has discussed the company’s goals at length with Microsoft, and Microsoft has reviewed the renewed culture commitment and actions Activision Blizzard have done so far, and the efforts they’ve undertaken. Microsoft is supportive of the goals and the work being done. This is a compelling transaction for all stakeholders, including employees.”

The senators are also reportedly concerned that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick could dodge following the ongoing accountability scandal, and could be eligible for a massive payout if he improves the company’s culture in the wake of these accusations.

“This lack of accountability, despite shareholders, employees, and the public calling for Kotick to be held responsible for the culture he created, would be an unacceptable result of the proposed Microsoft acquisition.”

It’s been reported that Kotick will leave the company once the Microsoft acquisition is finalized.

“No additional special compensation arrangements for Mr. Kotick were entered into in connection with the transaction,” confirmed Activision Blizzard. “Mr. Kotick’s base salary has been reduced to California’s minimum annual salary (which is approximately $62,500 for 2022), and he will not be awarded any bonuses or equity grants until the Workplace Responsibility Committee of the Activision Blizzard Board of Directors has determined that Activision Blizzard has made appropriate progress toward achievement of the transformational gender-related goals and other commitments described in such announcement.”

Microsoft is planning to pay $68.7 billion to acquire Activision Blizzard, and while large mergers are subject to scrutiny from the FTC due to antitrust concerns, this additional scrutiny from US senators is a bit of a fly in the ointment.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes the acquisition will still be approved: “Even post-this acquisition, we will be number three with sort of low teens [market] share, where even the highest player is also [in the] teen [for market] share. It shows how fragmented content creation platforms are. And so, that’s the fundamental category. Yes, we will be a big player in what is a highly fragmented place.”

If you want to find out more about the Activision Blizzard lawsuit, check out our timeline of everything that’s happened so far.

Ryan Leston is an entertainment journalist and film critic for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter.

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