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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Anna Isaac

CBI cancels all events after Guardian’s sexual misconduct allegations

The 2018 CBI Conference
The Confederation of British Industry’s 2018 conference. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty

The UK’s most prominent business lobbying organisation, the Confederation of British Industry, has cancelled forthcoming events including its annual dinner after the Guardian revealed multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by its staff.

The CBI has been thrown into turmoil after the Guardian reported claims from more than a dozen women who said that they had been victims of various forms of sexual misconduct by senior figures at the CBI. This included an account from a woman who alleged she was raped at a staff party on a boat on the River Thames.

The latest allegations of misconduct by senior figures at the CBI are separate to those made about its director general, Tony Danker, last month.

The Bank of England governor, Andrew Bailey, was due to speak at the dinner in central London on 11 May, but withdrew from the event after the Guardian’s report.

A CBI spokesperson said: “In light of the very serious allegations that are currently subject to independent investigation, the CBI has decided to temporarily pause its external programme of events, including the annual dinner on 11 May. After Easter, the board hopes to have preliminary findings and actions from the first phase of the investigation and, among other steps, will review this pause in event activity at that point.”

It is understood that the CBI received a phone call on Tuesday morning from the central bank, explaining that in light of the new allegations, it was no longer considered appropriate for Bailey to speak.

Insiders at the CBI say it was this phone call that caused the CBI to stop its events programme.

CBI members, which include some of Britain’s biggest businesses, later received an email, seen by the Guardian, that stated: “In light of the seriousness of the allegations as well as the ongoing nature of the independent investigation, the CBI has decided to temporarily pause its programme of events and the active promotion of them.”

However, the email did not mention that Bailey had already withdrawn from the dinner.

A CBI spokesperson said that the decision had been taken “following discussions with multiple stakeholders”.

Last year’s dinner was held at a former brewery in central London, with the then chancellor Rishi Sunak appearing as guest speaker before an audience of more than 600 senior business leaders, politicians and journalists. This year’s dinner was due to be held at Old Billingsgate, a former fish market in the City of London, with tables of 10 selling for £4,900.

The recent events mark the CBI’s biggest crisis since it was founded by royal charter in 1965.

Some CBI members told the Guardian they were considering whether to retain their membership as result.

A spokesperson for the jet engines company Rolls-Royce said: “As a business that does not tolerate misconduct, the recent allegations are deeply concerning. We expect the CBI to thoroughly investigate and take real action on any findings from that investigation. We will await the outcome of the investigation before considering our membership.”

The earlier allegations relating to Danker are the subject of an independent investigation led by the law firm Fox Williams. They include a claim of unwanted contact with a female employee that she considered to be sexual harassment. Danker stepped aside from his post last month, pending its outcome.

The investigation has been expanded to include the latest allegations put to the CBI by the Guardian. These include an allegation of widespread use of cocaine at official CBI events.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is the UK’s most prominent business lobbying organisation. It is a not-for-profit organisation founded by royal charter in 1965, after a merger of older employer bodies.  

It claims “unrivalled” access to government. It also claims to have the biggest number of policy specialists outside of Whitehall, the seat of the British government, in order to support its 190,000 business members, which are the chief source of its income. Its total income was £25m in 2021, of which £22m was from membership fees.

Its membership is composed of direct members and members of other trade bodies.

Its 1,500 direct members are businesses that actively hold membership, such as the supermarket Asda and the jet engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce. Fees vary significantly: top-tier businesses can pay £90,000 annually, some mid-sized companies pay half this price and smaller companies pay far less.

The bulk of its membership comes via trade bodies such as the National Farmers’ Union and the Federation of Master Builders. The CBI counts these trade bodies' memberships within its own 190,000 total.

The lobby group has access to the prime minister and cabinet, and campaigns on issues ranging from funding for childcare to tax and skills. Its relationship with the UK government was stretched severely by Brexit, with its access to Number 10 much curtailed. A remark attributed to the former prime minister  Boris Johnson – “fuck business” – was considered to be aimed at efforts by the CBI and others, to try to influence the post-Brexit UK-EU trade agreement.

Its former director general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn sought to rebuild ties with the government during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, including working alongside trade unions and No 10 on developing the furlough scheme. 

Tony Danker took over from Fairbairn, the CBI’s first female boss, in November 2020. He continued a focus on re-engaging with the government and the opposition Labour party. He was criticised for speaking in support of Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget in September 2022. 

The CBI is governed by a president and an executive committee, which, in normal times, is chaired by the director general. It also has a board of non-executive directors, which the director general sits on.
Anna Isaac   

In response to the allegations, first reported on Monday, a CBI spokesperson said: “The CBI has treated and continues to treat all matters of workplace conduct with the utmost seriousness, which is why, earlier this month, we commissioned a thorough investigation by an independent law firm into all recent allegations that have been put to us.

“It would undermine this important process and be damaging and prejudicial to all the individuals involved to comment on these allegations at this point. We will not hesitate to take any necessary action when the investigation concludes.”

On the specific allegation of rape, the spokesperson added: “We have found no evidence or record of this matter. Given the seriousness of the issue, it is part of the independent investigation being conducted by Fox Williams.”

The Guardian understands that the cancellation of events also came after the Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy pulled out of a CBI political dinner scheduled for later this month – a move first reported by Bloomberg.

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