CBI's future in doubt as string of firms end relationships over rape allegations

CBI is facing a mass exodus of some of its key business partners, ITV News North of England correspondent Rachel Townsend reports

A number of the UK's largest firms have ended their relationship with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), following a string of allegations of sexual misconduct.

NatWest, the John Lewis Partnership, Vodafone, BMW, Aviva, and Virgin Media O2 were among the firms distancing themselves since newspaper reports detailed rape claims by a woman who had worked at the organisation.

Firms were suspending their engagements with the business lobby group by the hour on Friday afternoon.Mastercard, Phoenix, Energy UK, Zurich, Vitality, B&Q owner Kingfisher, National Grid, and People’s Partnership all joined the exodus following the latest allegations.

Other major employers – such as Tesco, Meta, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lloyds Banking Group, Unilever, ScottishPower, the British Beer and Pub Association, ManpowerGroup UK, and Shell – have also suspended all activity with the lobbying group.

Early on Friday evening, the CBI said it will “suspend all policy and membership activity” until it can hold a meeting of its membership in June after dozens of its biggest supporters withdrew from the organisation.

The CBI board said it would put forward proposals for a “refocused” industry body atthe meeting in two months’ time.

In a statement, the CBI board said: “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 (EGM) in June.

“At the EGM we will put forward proposals for a refocused CBI to our membership for them to decide on the future role and purpose of the organisation.

“This work and the cultural reform will be the entire and urgent focus of the organisation over the coming weeks.”

Earlier this month, the Government said it would pause all engagement with the CBI after initial reports of misconduct at the group.

The crisis facing the trade group deepened after The Guardian reported on Friday that the woman claimed she was raped by two male colleagues, following a night out while working at a CBI office abroad.

It is the second claim from a woman that she was a victim of rape at the organisation.

Details of the new rape allegation have been passed on to police.

Tony Danker Credit: Jacob King/PA

City of London Police were already investigating the previous rape allegation, alongside a series of other misconduct claims from about a dozen workers.

In response, CBI president Brian McBride 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.

“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.”

The CBI added it is expecting a further report from the law firm conducting an internal investigation later on Friday and will announce steps to “bring about the wider change that is needed” early next week.

On Thursday, the CBI confirmed that it passed fresh information to the police regarding a report of a “serious criminal offence”.

It said it was “liaising closely” with the authorities and has urged anyone with further information to come forward.

Separately, former CBI director-general Tony Danker was sacked last week over allegations of misconduct.

On Wednesday, he said his reputation has been “totally destroyed” by the allegation and claimed he has been made a “fall guy” for a wider crisis.

Mr Danker told the BBC his name had been wrongly associated with separate claims, including the rapes which allegedly happened before he joined the CBI.

After initial allegations, the business group also suspended three other employees and hired a law firm, Fox Williams, to carry out an internal investigation.

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