More than three years after the NAACP raised allegations of widespread racial discrimination in the music industry, CBS Records has become the first record company to give the civil rights group a written affirmative action proposal.
Still, an official of the NAACP, which is scheduled to hold its national convention in Los Angeles next month, expressed dissatisfaction with the three-page proposal signed by CBS Records President Walter Yetnikoff.
"It appears to be more of a testimonial in terms of what they've done than in terms of what they are going to do," said Fred Rasheed, the NAACP's director of economic development. "Based on my discussions, I don't think we are going to sign it."
The record business has lagged behind other industries in signing "fair share" economic agreements with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that would commit it to be more responsive to black workers and consumers. The NAACP has signed pacts with 49 firms since 1982 but has no agreements with the $6.5 billion record industry.
The NAACP's fair share agreements typically run 10 pages or more and cover everything from corporate philanthropy and purchases from black suppliers to black employment and setting up a monitoring mechanism, Rasheed said.
Yetnikoff could not be reached for comment. But LeBaron Taylor, CBS vice president of corporate affairs and the company executive closest to the NAACP discussions, said, "What we have presented is a credible document. From our perspective we have satisfied the request of the NAACP."
Four months ago the NAACP said it was considering boycotting CBS Records, a unit of Sony Corp., after years of fruitless talks convinced it that the record industry was dragging its feet and not providing sufficient opportunities for blacks. But the two groups resumed talks in recent weeks in hopes of reaching an accord in time for the July 8-12 NAACP national convention.
Some record companies say they agree with the NAACP's goals, but most have either asked for more time to consider fair share pacts or they argue that their existing affirmative action programs make the agreements unnecessary.
Black record executives are divided over whether the industry has shown progress since 1987, when the NAACP released a 20-page report alleging that racial discrimination was "rampant" in the business.
"I think there has been progress and meaningful progress," said Tom Draper, vice president of community relations for Time Warner Inc. and former vice president of black music at Warner Bros. Records.
But Brenda Andrews, a vice president at Almo Irving Music Publishing, said, "I think there's a lot more to be done."
Rasheed said there has been no update on the NAACP's 1987 report, but he speculated that since then, there has been little change.
"Blacks are still pretty much excluded from the industry," Rasheed said. "There are only one or two blacks that have any real decision-making power and authority."
Yet recently there has been speculation that one of the industry's highest-ranking black executives -- Ed Eckstine, executive vice president, talent and creative affairs, at Polygram Records -- might become the first black to head a major record company other than Motown Records.
In recent days, Eckstine has gained control over the marketing, publicity and video product areas at Polygram in addition to his previous duties finding and signing artists for the company, said a spokeswoman.
But spokeswoman Dawn Bridges said Alain Levy, executive vice president of Polygram, is "playing his cards close to the vest" and is "keeping his options open" regarding who will become head of Polygram's U.S. operations. Levy is leaving his current post to become, effective Jan. 1, the president and chief executive of Polygram N.V., the Netherlands-based parent company.