Head of former CBI member says organisation has ‘probably run its course’

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The head of a former member of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said the business organisation has “probably run its course” after a second rape allegation was made.

Adnams Brewery chief executive Andy Wood said continued membership of the CBI was “untenable and unsustainable” after dozens of companies and trade bodies withdrew on Friday.

The CBI board said it would “suspend all policy and membership activity” and will put forward proposals for a “refocused” industry body at a meeting in June.

It came after a second unnamed employee of the organisation alleged in a Guardian article on Friday that she had been raped by a colleague.

  • NatWest
  • John Lewis Partnership
  • Vodafone
  • BMW
  • Aviva
  • Virgin Media O2

“I think business has said, and Adnams has said, enough is enough, and a tsunami of resignations, suspensions and terminations yesterday I think is evidence of that.

“We’re are an organisation that takes its culture and its values really seriously, and it’s just totally untenable and unsustainable to remain members.”

He added: “I think there are lessons to all leaders to (ask): ‘when people aren’t looking, how does your organisation behave? We have to all take note of what’s happening here’.”

Mr Wood credited the CBI with being “right at the heart” of the furlough scheme which saved millions of jobs during the pandemic, but added that as an organisation “conceived in the 1960s” it has “probably run its course”.

NatWest, the John Lewis Partnership, Vodafone, BMW, Aviva, and Virgin Media O2 were among the companies that said they were terminating their membership of the business group.

Other major employers – including Tesco, Meta, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lloyds Banking Group, Unilever, and Shell – announced they were suspending all activity with the lobbying group.

Baroness Patience Wheatcroft, a former non-executive director of Barclays, told Times Radio: “It’s very hard to see that it has a positive future, I’m afraid.

“This organisation has presided over the most extraordinary culture by the sound of it.

“It’s very hard to imagine an organisation where not one but two allegations of rape are now being investigated, and I think it makes it nigh-on impossible for the CBI to do the job that it’s there to do.”

She added: “I think it’s time for a total rethink, not just by the CBI of what it does but a rethink of how business is represented and lobbies government.

“The CBI is having to accept itself that it was clearly deeply flawed and now it’s looking for a new sense of direction… they probably need to disband.”

In the Guardian report, a woman claimed the alleged rape took place while she was unconscious following a night out while working at a CBI office abroad.

She said she had no recollection of the alleged attack itself but had described in detail the physical signs that led her to believe she had been raped, and was later presented in the office with an explicit photograph.

It is the second rape claim made by a woman at the organisation.

Previously, a member of staff alleged that she was attacked by a manager on a summer boat party in 2019.

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

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

Separately, former CBI director-general Tony Danker was sacked last week after being accused of making unwanted contact with a woman who works for the organisation.

On Wednesday, he said his reputation had been “totally destroyed” by the allegation and claimed he had 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 law firm Fox Williams to carry out an internal investigation.

In a statement on Friday, 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.”

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