The CBI was on the brink of collapse on Friday as many of the biggest names in British business cancelled their memberships after a second woman alleged that she had been raped while working at the UK employers’ organisation.
Aviva, Jaguar Land Rover, John Lewis, Virgin Media O2, WPP, ITV, Sage and Kingfisher all said they had quit the group. International companies including EY, BMW and Mastercard also cut ties.
The exodus came after The Guardian newspaper reported the allegation of rape, the second such claim this month. The CBI has also been rocked by claims of sexual harassment, drug-taking and bullying.
The CBI board met on Friday to try to chart a path forward for the beleaguered organisation even though the departing members threatened to make the group unviable.
In an attempt to halt the crisis, the CBI board said it had taken the “difficult but necessary” decision to suspend all policy and membership activity until an extraordinary general meeting in June. “We want to properly understand from our colleagues, members, experts and stakeholders how they envisage our future role and purpose,” it added.
In the coming weeks, the CBI would seek to undertake a “cultural reform” of the organisation. “We know it will take time to rebuild trust in our purpose and culture,” the board said.
For almost six decades, the CBI has been the premier lobbying organisation for business in the UK, sometimes working closely with government on policy and sometimes clashing, notably when it strongly opposed Britain’s exit from the EU.
The Guardian reported on Friday that an alleged rape had taken place involving a woman who was employed at one of the CBI’s overseas offices. It declined to specify the date of the incident or the country where it took place in order to protect the alleged victim’s identity.
FTSE 100 insurer 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.”
The company added that it was “regrettably” ending its membership “with immediate effect”, a statement echoed by John Lewis, the Association of British Insurers and Lloyd’s of London.
The CBI on Thursday had said it had been passed information about a serious crime and was now “liaising closely” with the police.
The City of London Police is already investigating an allegation of rape at a CBI staff party on a boat on the river Thames in 2019, alongside other allegations of misconduct made by a dozen people who have worked at the organisation.
The police confirmed that its investigations “regarding sexual misconduct at the CBI” continued, adding that “at the present time there have been no arrests made”.
An independent investigation at the CBI’s request by Fox Williams, the law firm, has led to the suspension of three staff. The CBI has said it expects to publish the probe’s conclusions early next week.
The group separately fired its former director-general Tony Danker this month for unrelated workplace misconduct. Danker said this week that he had been made the “fall guy” for the much more serious allegations.
The Guardian report included graphic details of the second alleged rape, which the woman involved said took place at the hands of two men after a night of heavy drinking.
The woman said she had no recollection of the rape itself, but had described in detail the physical signs that led her to believe that she was raped and was later presented in the office with an explicit photograph related to the incident.
The woman told The Guardian that she blamed the CBI for allowing an atmosphere in which such incidents could take place and for failing to provide adequate human resources support.
CBI president Brian McBride said the new allegations were “abhorrent” and that the organisation had not been previously aware of them. “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,” he added.
Additional reporting by Rafe Uddin, Judith Evans, David Sheppard, Laura Onita, Owen Walker, Anna Gross, Oliver Barnes, Michael O’Dwyer and Tim Bradshaw
Which companies have quit the CBI?
ABB UK, Accenture, Adnams, Arup, Association of British Insurers, Aviva, BMW, Compass, Deloitte, EY, Ford, Fidelity International, Goldman Sachs, Imagination Technologies, ITV, Jaguar Land Rover, JLL, John Lewis, Kingfisher, National Grid, NatWest, Manchester Airports, Mastercard, Phoenix Group, The People’s Partnership,
RSA Insurance Group, Sage, Schroders, TLT, Vitality, Virgin Media/O2, Vodafone, WPP and Zurich UK have all quit.
Asda, AstraZeneca, Akzo Nobel, Babcock, Bank of Ireland, Barclays, Bayer, BP, BT, British American Tobacco, Costain, Diageo, DLA Piper, Ford, GSK, Heathrow, HSBC, InterContinental Hotels Group, JLL, JPMorgan, KPMG, Legal & General, Lidl, Lloyds Banking Group, Macquarie Group, ManpowerGroup UK, Marks and Spencer, McKinsey, Meta, Morgan Stanley, Neptune Energy, Nissan, Novartis, PwC, Reckitt Benckiser, Relx, Roche, Rolls-Royce, Royal Mail, Sainsbury’s, Santander, Scottish Power, Shell, Smith & Nephew, Spirax Sarco, Tesco, TSB, Uber and Unilever have all paused activities with the CBI.