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Britain’s CBI group suspends work as businesses quit over rape allegations


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Britain’s CBI group suspends work as businesses quit over rape allegations

CBI. A Confederation of British Industry logo is seen during its annual conference in London, Britain, November 9, 2015.

Toby Melville/Reuters

The Confederation of British Industry, which claims to represent 190,000 businesses including many of Britain's biggest companies, is facing a battle for survival as a growing number of firms cut ties

LONDON, United Kingdom – The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said on Friday, April 21, that it was suspending all policy and membership work until June, after a slew of businesses quit following a new media report about another alleged rape at the trade association.

Major British corporate names including NatWest, John Lewis, and Virgin Media O2 quit the CBI on Friday after the Guardian newspaper reported allegations by a second woman that she had been raped by two CBI colleagues, following a separate rape allegation and news of a police investigation last week.

The CBI, which claims to represent 190,000 businesses including many of Britain’s biggest companies, is facing a battle for survival as a growing number of firms cut ties.

The body has been beset by allegations of workplace misconduct since March, which led last week to the firing of its director-general, Tony Danker, over separate staff complaints unrelated to the rape allegations.

“We want 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,” the CBI’s board said in a statement.

Other major companies to quit the CBI on Friday included insurers Aviva, Phoenix Group, and Zurich Insurance Group, while businesses that were pausing or suspending their ties include the retailers Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer as well as engineering company Rolls-Royce and bank Santander.

The CBI said it would put forward reform plans to its members at the meeting in June.

“This work and the cultural reform will be the entire and urgent focus of the organization over the coming weeks,” it said.

Earlier on Friday, the CBI said an urgent root-and-branch review of its culture was proceeding and it would respond to an investigation it had commissioned by law firm Fox Williams early next week.

“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,” CBI president Brian McBride said.

Crisis of confidence

The CBI was already struggling to carry out its main role of representing businesses to politicians and the public. Earlier this month the government said it was suspending high-level meetings with the CBI.

Last week, the City of London Police opened an investigation into what the CBI called “a serious criminal offense” after the Guardian said a female member of staff claimed she was raped by a manager at an office party on a boat in 2019.

The Guardian on Friday also reported the case of a woman working for the CBI who was stalked by a colleague in 2018 and discouraged from reporting him to police.

In its statement on Friday, the CBI’s board expressed “shock and revulsion at the events that have taken place in our organization.”

“We are deeply sorry and express our profound regret to the women who have endured these horrific experiences,” it added.

Virgin Media O2 criticized how the CBI had dealt with the allegations.

“The way the situation has been handled is not representative of business in Britain. We have therefore informed the CBI that we are ending our membership,” a spokesperson for the telecoms operator said.

State-backed lender NatWest also questioned whether the CBI could still represent the business community.

“British business needs a strong representative voice. Given the extremely serious allegations made against the CBI, we no longer have confidence that it can fulfill this role at the present time,” a NatWest spokesperson said. – Rappler.com

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