Major UK firms quit business lobby after newly reported rape claim

Unilever, NatWest, BMW Group, BT Group, Virgin Media, MasterCard and others cancel involvement with Confederation of British Industry


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Reuters file
Reuters file

Published: Fri 21 Apr 2023, 9:34 PM

Major British firms on Friday announced their withdrawal from the Confederation of British Industry, after fresh rape allegations at the country's biggest business lobby group.

The move follows fresh revelations reported in The Guardian newspaper on Friday of a second claim of rape said to have involved staff members.

Police are already investigating allegations of sexual misconduct and an earlier rape reported by the newspaper that is alleged to have taken place in 2019.

The CBI described the latest allegation as "abhorrent".

Unilever, NatWest, the John Lewis Partnership, BMW Group, BT Group, EY and Virgin Media O2 all cancelled their involvement with the group.

Others including Aviva, Mastercard, Phoenix, Zurich UK and Vitality have also cut ties, plunging the future of the CBI into doubt.

Asda, PwC, Diageo, GSK, Lloyds Banking Group, National Grid, Shell and others have suspended their activity or are reviewing their membership.

The UK government said earlier this month it would pause all engagement with the lobbying group after the initial reports about misconduct.

On Friday, The Guardian reported that another "woman has alleged that she was raped by two male colleagues when she worked at the Confederation of British Industry". No date was given.

A separate incident, said to have occurred in 2018, alleged that a woman based at the organisation's London office was stalked by a male colleague.

The probe has led to the firing of director-general Tony Danker and the suspension of three employees.

While Danker was not the subject of the allegations, the CBI said "his own conduct fell short of that expected".

The reason for the suspension of three other employees has not been given.

"The latest allegations put to us by The Guardian are abhorrent and our hearts go out to any women who have been victims of the behaviour described," CBI president Brian McBride said on Friday.

"While the CBI was not previously aware of the most serious allegations, 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."

The CBI represents about 190,000 businesses, which together employ almost seven million people, and counts blue chip UK firms among its members.

Following Danker's sacking, the CBI appointed Rain Newton-Smith, former chief economist at the group, as its new head just one month after she began a role at Barclays bank.

Danker became CBI head in late 2020, helping to steer businesses of various sizes and across different sectors through Covid lockdowns.

His predecessor was Carolyn Fairbairn, currently an independent non-executive director at HSBC bank.

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