The UK’s biggest business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has issued a last gasp plea to its members to give them “reason to consider trusting us again,” its president said in an open letter issued this evening.
Brian McBride, president of the organisation, which was founded in the 1960s, admitted it had been “complacent” and apologised for “mistakes in how we organised the business that led to terrible consequences”.
The mea culpa was in response to a series of allegations first published by The Guardian of serious sexual misconduct taking place under the CBI’s watch, including two accounts of rape, which has sparked speculation over whether it can survive.
“We failed to filter out culturally toxic people during the hiring process. We failed to conduct proper cultural onboarding of staff,” McBride admitted.
He also set out the first steps of the CBI’s blueprint to turnaround the group’s culture to prevent future instances of sexual misconduct in a bid to bring the CBI back from the brink.
“Whether that is possible, I simply don’t know. That is, of course, for each of you to decide,” McBride said, referring to the CBI’s around 190,000 members.
Last week, Britain’s top companies cut ties with the Royal Chartered lobby group, including FTSE 100 listed insurers Aviva, Phoenix, high street stalwart John Lewis and professional services titan EY.
Others, including JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, paused their membership.
The government and Labour Party have stopped talking with the CBI. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said today there is “no point” engaging with the lobby right now.
Rain Newton-Smith, its former chief economist of several years, was parachuted in recently to guide the group after the board chose to dismiss Tony Danker as director general over claims he made some female staff feel uncomfortable.
Danker denies any wrongdoing, telling the BBC he was made to be the “fall guy”.
McBride said senior leadership were wrong to try to “find resolution in sexual harassment cases when we should have removed those offenders from our business”.
He admitted that decision “allowed that very small minority of staff with regressive – and, in some cases, abhorrent – attitudes towards their female colleagues to feel more assured in their behaviour, and more confident of not being detected”.
A slimmed down summary of the findings of an investigation launched by law firm Fox Williams in response to The Guardian reports published alongside McBride’s open letter said senior staff did not have “any awareness of the allegations made prior to their publication”.
McBride in the open letter sketched out the CBI’s plans to turnaround the group’s culture.
Following Fox Williams’s recommendation, the lobby group is hiring a chief people officer. All CBI workers will complete compulsory anti-bullying and harassment training, alongside attending mental health employment law classes.
The changes come ahead of an extraordinary general meeting in June when the CBI’s members will vote on the leadership’s package to turn around the lobby group.
It is unclear whether the CBI could survive if its membership rejected the proposals.