Britain’s CBI says it hired some ‘culturally toxic’ people

By Muvija M and David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) -The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) hired “culturally toxic” staff with “abhorrent” attitudes towards female colleagues, the business group’s president said on Monday after a review into rape allegations and other serious misconduct.

The CBI – one of Britain’s best known business organisations – has been beset by allegations of serious workplace misconduct since March, which led to the government suspending high-level ties earlier this month and has cast doubt over its future.

The CBI said on Monday it had dismissed a small number of staff who had failed to meet high standards of conduct, but declined to give more details for legal reasons.

A host of major British businesses, including NatWest and John Lewis, quit their membership of the organisation on Friday after the Guardian newspaper reported an alleged rape at one of the trade association’s overseas offices.

The newspaper last month reported on an alleged rape at a CBI staff party in 2019 which is now being investigated by police, as well as accounts of stalking and drug use.

On Friday, the CBI said it was suspending all policy work until June, when it would present plans for internal reform to its members.

Earlier this month the CBI’s board fired its director-general, Tony Danker, over a separate issue – unrelated to the rapes or other more serious allegations – but connected to his personal conduct towards some female staff.

CBI President Brian McBride released a public letter on Monday and part of a report he had commissioned from a law firm, Fox Williams, on changes the CBI needed to make.

McBride said the report had found a number of failings in how the CBI hired and trained staff, and judged that the CBI paid more attention to competence than to behaviour. In cases of sexual harassment, the CBI had sought to smooth over disputes between staff, rather than remove alleged offenders, he said.

“This last point was our most grievous error, which led to a reluctance amongst women to formalise complaints,” McBride said, adding that a “very small minority of staff with regressive – and, in some cases, abhorrent – attitudes towards their female colleagues” had felt emboldened as a result.

Fox Williams said senior leadership at the CBI had been aware of possible drug use at the company party in 2019 where one staff member was alleged to have been raped, as well as the dismissal of a “temporary worker” who attended the party.

A single member of the CBI’s executive committee had been aware of a complaint about a CBI board member’s behaviour, and some senior leaders had been aware about a complaint over a senior manager which was “potentially relevant”.

However, the law firm did not find evidence that senior CBI leaders were aware of the depth of staff concerns around misconduct.

McBride said he would follow the law firm’s recommendations to restructure the CBI’s human resources department and make other changes.

“Effective immediately, the CBI will operate a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and bullying behaviour,” he said.

(Reporting by Muvija M and David Milliken, writing by Farouq Suleiman and Kate Holton, editing by Christina Fincher)