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CBI chief sets out its 'most grievous error' in sexual misconduct scandal

CBI chief sets out its 'most grievous error' in sexual misconduct scandal

The organisation's president admits a string of mistakes at the UK's largest employers' group, saying it had placed resolution ahead of people in sexual harassment cases.

The president of the scandal-hit CBI has admitted he does not know if the business lobby group can win back trust while setting out a series of shortcomings relating to the victims of sexual misconduct.

Brian McBride used an open letter to members to confirm that "a number of people" had been dismissed amid a continuing police investigation and admitted staff had been failed on many fronts over many years by the leadership.

He set out its response to the findings of a review, conducted by a law firm, into its handling of the affair and governance at the CBI.

Lawyers at Fox Williams said there were a few instances that the senior leadership had awareness of allegations made prior to their publication by the Guardian newspaper.

These included, the law firm found, a member of the CBI executive committee being aware of a complaint about the behaviour of a board member, which was raised with him directly.

Brian McBride has been president of the CBI for 10 months

No other board member was aware of the complaint at the time, it stated.

Mr McBride admitted the CBI's "most grievous" error was "trying to find resolution in sexual harassment cases when we should have removed those offenders from our business".

He wrote: "We didn't put in place sufficient preventative measures to protect our people from those seeking to cause harm and we didn't react properly when issues arose as a result.

"We failed to filter out culturally toxic people during the hiring process.

"We failed to conduct proper cultural onboarding of staff. Some of our managers were promoted too quickly without the necessary prior and ongoing training to protect our cultural values, and to properly react when those values were violated.

"In assessing performance, we paid more attention to competence than to behaviour. Our HR function was not represented at board level, which reduced escalation paths to senior levels of the company when these were most needed."

The law firm made several recommendations, including the appointment of a chief people officer to the board.

The CBI suspended all membership and policy activity on Friday after dozens of major members either suspended collaboration with the group, or quit.

The trigger for the exodus was an allegation of rape made by a second female worker, published that day by the Guardian.

Those to quit the CBI included NatWest, Aviva and the John Lewis Partnership - all led by women.

The extent of the challenges facing the CBI - and damage done to its reputation - has led commentators to question whether it has a future as a standalone force for UK businesses.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt piled more pressure on the beleaguered lobby group on Monday when he declared there was "no point" in engaging with the CBI during the crisis, adding that business needed a strong, representative voice at the table.

The chief executive of pub company Adnams, Andy Wood, told Sky News the CBI brand was "probably damaged beyond repair".

He said of the open letter: "I think a number of the things that are talked about in there should have been in place anyway. And I would have expected that of a representative organisation that is speaking for some of the largest and most well-known companies in the UK.

"So whilst I welcome the letter and the contrition, I'm not sure the, you know, zero tolerance of bullying and harassment, training leaders in recognising bullying and harassment and appointing a chief people officer, go quite far enough and not quite the root and branch reform that was talked about earlier in the week."


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