‘Root and branch reform’ aimed at saving CBI

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is to rename itself as part of “root and branch reform” after it was plunged into crisis by allegations of sexual assault within the organisation. The efforts come as the confederation’s president admits that it may never regain trust.

The attempt to rebrand CBI comes amidst a crisis for the company that began with an allegation of rape and has since snowballed into multiple allegations of rape, sexual harassment, and bullying as the toxicity of the workplace for the Britain’s biggest business lobby group was unmasked in the public arena. The revelations have led to over 50 groups suspending or cutting membership with the confederation, including notable names such as Aviva, John Lewis, Virgin Media, O2, EY, BMW, and Mastercard.

A report by the law firm Fox Williams commissioned by the CBI led to the suspension of three staff members pending the completion of investigations and the sacking of Director-General Tony Danker, who claimed that he had been made the “fall guy” for the organisation and that his name had been “totally destroyed” because it had appeared alongside rape allegations that did not involve him. CBI president Brian McBride has called Danker’s description of his dismissal “selective” but stated that the Fox Williams report would not be publicly published due to it being a “private legal matter”.

In a letter to CBI member companies, McBride stated that the confederation had made a “grievous error” by trying to resolve sexual harassment allegations in-house instead of sacking offenders. He further stated that the CBI would operate a “zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and bullying behaviour” in the future and that a number of people had been dismissed for “failure to meet those standards”.

Membership fees form the bulk of the CBI’s £25 million annual revenue, and McBride admitted that he did not know if CBI could “effectively serve” its members as it takes steps to give them “reason to consider trusting us again”.

Left to pick up the pieces is new Director-General Rain Newton-Smith, who had recently left CBI after nine years as its chief economist to join Barclays but has now returned. Speaking to the Financial Times, Newton-Smith confirmed the forthcoming name change, but stated that this will simply be an aesthetic complement to meaningful change: “I am sure we are going to see a new name for the CBI, but that is just the wrapper that goes on the outside. What matters is what we do, what we deliver and our purpose… The CBI that emerges from this is not going to be the CBI of the past, that is clear. It needs to be a new, a different organisation.”

Changes to the structures and operations from CBI will be unveiled to members in the coming weeks ahead of an emergency general meeting in June. CBI Northern Ireland Director Angela McGowan stated: “There will be no stone unturned when it comes to employer and employee best practice behaviours.”

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