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CBI’s future in doubt: major corporations quit amid further rape allegations

CBI

The future of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is uncertain as several major companies, such as John Lewis and NatWest, have cancelled their memberships in light of recent allegations of rape and sexual harassment at the business lobbying group.

The CBI, an organisation that represents 190,000 members who collectively employ almost 7 million workers, will likely face financial repercussions due to the suspension of lucrative annual membership fees. This comes as the government has halted all interactions with the CBI while an investigation into allegations is pending.

CBI: membership suspension and termination

Over 50 major businesses have suspended or terminated their membership of the CBI – the insurance company, Aviva, was among the major corporations to make this announcement on Friday. Aviva notified the organisation of its decision in the morning, citing that the lobby group no longer represented the interests of the British business community.

An Aviva spokesperson 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. We have therefore regrettably terminated our membership with immediate effect.”

Further allegations of rape and sexual harassment

According to sources, the decision was reportedly made prior to The Guardian’s recent publication of allegations on Friday. The allegations included a woman claiming to have been raped by two male colleagues while working at an overseas office of the CBI. Additionally, it was revealed that another woman based at the organisation’s London office, had been stalked by a male colleague in 2018.

The group had already engaged the services of law firm Fox Williams to conduct an independent investigation into a separate set of accusations brought to light by over a dozen ex-employees, including allegations of sexual assault. One such claim involved a woman who stated that she was raped by a manager during a summer boat party on the River Thames in 2019.

“We have decided to end our membership with immediate effect”

A representative for the John Lewis Partnership, the parent company of the department store chain and Waitrose supermarkets, said: “Due to the further very serious and ongoing allegations made relating to the CBI, we have decided to end our membership with immediate effect.”

NatWest, the major banking group which had previously halted its involvement with the CBI, announced on Friday that it had “withdrawn” its membership after careful consideration, adding it had lost confidence in the organisation’s ability to represent businesses effectively.

Other companies, including BMW, JLR, Virgin Media O2, and EY, also confirmed that they were terminating their CBI memberships in light of recent allegations. While several other organisations, such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl, Rolls-Royce, PwC, SSE, and Unilever, stated that they were suspending their ties with the CBI while the allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment were being investigated.

The call for a “trusted voice”

PwC stated that for any organisation that represents UK business “needs to be a trusted voice”. A spokesperson added: “With multiple horrific allegations hanging over its head, the CBI is currently unable to do its job.”

Major oil companies TBP and Shell have reportedly halted all activities with the organisation, while the National Grid has said it has ended its membership with immediate effect.

Trade bodies such as Energy UK, representing over 100 of the UK’s largest energy companies, and the Association of British Insurers have also suspended their membership with the CBI, citing it was  “untenable” to retain its membership due to the latest allegations. 

Moreover, the CEO of the Adnams Brewery, Andy Wood, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s a human story here and we greatly regret the experience that these young and vulnerable people have had with these alleged events that went on, it sounds truly horrific”.

Final thought

It has only been 5 months since Rishi Sunak addressed the annual CBI conference, but following the recent allegations of rape and sexual harassment, it is not surprising that corporate Britain is abandoning CBI. The implosion of suspensions and terminations have undoubtedly put the CBI’s future in doubt as organisations rightly prioritise their culture and values. 

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