As firms quit...

CBI suspends activities amid sex abuse crisis


CBI events are on hold amid the growing scandal

The crisis-hit CBI is suspending activities until June after a number of major companies resigned their membership amid a series of abuse allegations.

In a statement issued on Friday evening Britain’s biggest business lobby group said it “shares the shock and revulsion at the events that have taken place in our organisation”.

It said wants to “properly understand from our colleagues, members, experts and stakeholders how they envisage our future role and purpose.

“As a result, we have taken the difficult but necessary decision to suspend all policy and membership activity until an Extraordinary General Meeting in June.”

At that meeting it will put forward proposals for a refocused CBI.

A number of Britain’s biggest companies including Aviva, John Lewis, NatWest Group (RBS), Phoenix and Virgin Media have resigned or suspended their membership, claiming the organisation no longer represents their interests.

The latest moves came after a second woman claimed she was raped by CBI colleagues.

The City of London Police was already investigating an alleged rape at a CBI summer party in 2019 before The Guardian reported the second incident.

Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Waight from the City of London Police said that no arrests had been made and investigations were continuing, and asked anyone with information to get in touch.

The CBI said: “We are taking steps to address our failings but recognise these are not yet sufficient to sustain the confidence of our colleagues, members and of the broader business community. 

“We know it will take time to rebuild trust in our purpose and culture. And to give our team and former colleagues the space to heal.”

The group said it had passed new information to the police after a report of a criminal offence.

Aviva said the claims of sexual abuse being made meant it was no longer in a position to represent the interests of business in the UK.


Aviva is among the firms which have withdrawn support

There is further speculation that Edinburgh-based Abrdn may also withdraw its membership, though a spokeswoman said it was awaiting the outcome of a review, and looked forward “to understanding the CBI’s plans for dealing with the issues that have emerged. We have made no decisions on our future membership.”

A spokesperson for Aviva said: “In light of the very serious allegations made, and the CBI’s handling of the process and response, we believe the CBI is no longer able to fulfil its core function – to be a representative voice of business in the UK.

“We have therefore, regrettably, terminated our membership with immediate effect.”

Last year Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc claimed that “unacceptable” sexist behaviour towards women “has actually increased” and that eradicating the problem “seems a long way off”.

Ms Blanc spoke out after a number of shareholders were accused of making “inappropriate” comments towards female board members at the company’s AGM.

Amanda Blanc

Amanda Blanc spoke out about ‘inappropriate behaviour’ at last year’s AGM

John Lewis said it made the decision to quit membership of the CBI “due to the further very serious and ongoing allegations”.

Virgin Media O2 said: “While we respect the ongoing investigations taking place, these disturbing allegations and the way the situation has been handled is not representative of business in Britain.”

The CBI dismissed director general Tony Danker after complaints were raised over his one misconduct towards staff. Mr Danker this week claimed he had been “thrown under the bus”. He was replaced by former CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith.

The CBI said today that a report from law firm Fox Williams on the matters was expected “imminently”.

Earlier, Brian McBride, CBI president, said: “The latest allegations put to us by The Guardian are abhorrent and our hearts go out to any women who have been victims of the behaviour described.

“While the CBI was not previously aware of the most serious allegations, it is vital that they are thoroughly investigated now and we are liaising closely with the police to help ensure any perpetrators are brought to justice.

Brian McBride

Brian McBride: allegations are abhorrent

“We recognise the substance of the harassment report outlined as relating to an allegation made and investigated in January 2018. The finding of harassment was upheld and a sanction was imposed.

”However, the CBI does not recognise many of the most serious elements of the Guardian story relating to harassment, including the assertion that the individual had told the CBI of feelings of a sexual and violent nature towards the victim; and that he had followed her home.  

”Neither is the CBI aware and our records do not support the report that the CBI discouraged her from referring the matter to the police.

“We are rightly undertaking an urgent root and branch review of our culture to right the wrongs where we can and to reform our workplace for everyone.

“We are anticipating a further report from Fox Williams later today. The board will communicate its response to this and the other steps we are taking to bring about the wider change that is needed early next week.”

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