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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jasper Jolly

Members considering whether to leave CBI after Guardian allegations

The top of a bottle of Adnams beer
Brewery Adnams is in discussions about potentially leaving the lobby group. Photograph: Graham Turner/The Guardian

Several members of the UK’s foremost business lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry, are weighing whether leave it after a Guardian investigation revealed multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by its staff.

The CBI has briefed members across the country on calls in recent days, promising to reveal early findings from an independent investigation next week.

These phase 1 findings are understood to be those related to its director general, Tony Danker. Danker has been on leave since the Guardian revealed last month that he was the subject of complaints by staff about his conduct, including one complaint of behaviour perceived as sexual harassment.

It is unclear when other allegations, which are unrelated to Danker, will be reported on by the independent law firm appointed to the probe, Fox Williams.

Several members have described finding themselves in a quandary, unsatisfied with how the CBI has handled a spate of allegations but also acknowledging the need for a business lobbying organisation at a time of economic uncertainty for the UK.

Several have said they will not comment publicly about their membership plans until after the CBI publishes findings of its investigation. The CBI claims to represent about 190,000 businesses ranging from Barclays to Asda.

“It fills a gap that has to be filled somehow,” said one chief executive of a mid-sized manufacturing firm. “So maybe a new outfit, rebrand, true mea culpa, whatever. Something has got to do the job.”

Bosses at the Suffolk-based brewer Adnams have had discussions about potentially leaving the CBI. Andy Wood, Adnams’s chief executive, on Thursday said management had talked about leaving the organisation, depending on the outcome of an independent investigation.

The CBI has been thrown into crisis after the Guardian reported allegations from more than a dozen women who said they had been victims of various forms of sexual misconduct by senior figures at the organisation. One woman alleged that she was raped at a staff party on a boat in 2019.

The Department for Business and Trade on Wednesday said it was postponing ministerial engagement with the CBI until the lobby group concluded the investigation. Leading businesses including the FTSE 100 manufacturer Rolls-Royce have also expressed concerns and called for a thorough inquiry.

Asked if Adnams was considering pulling out of the CBI, Wood told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I was discussing this with our senior management team only this week, so, yes, it is on our agenda. But we would prefer to see the CBI sort itself out. It needs to be setting the standards here. Where we are at the moment is unacceptable.”

Wood acknowledged that it was conceivable that companies would look to lobby through other groups. “It’s in a very difficult place, isn’t it?” he said. “If there is any scintilla of truth in any of this then I think I can speak for all members and say this behaviour is completely unacceptable and there’s no place for it in the workplace.”

He said he hoped an investigation commissioned by the CBI president, Brian McBride would be “measured but determined, and get to the bottom of this”.

“I hope it’s going to sort it out quickly. Speed is of the essence here,” he said. “Reputations take decades to build, and moments to destroy.”

The accountancy firm EY has terminated the secondment of an employee who was working the CBI following the allegations, according to a report by Sky News.

Danker has said previously that he apologises “profusely” for any offence he caused, and that it was “completely unintentional”.

The CBI expanded its inquiry to include the separate, new allegations after they were put to it last week. The lobby group has hired an external human resources consultant to help manage complaints, as well as the law firm Fox Williams.

The CBI has said it has no record or evidence of the alleged rape.

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