Britain’s leading business lobby group sets out proposals for change after misconduct allegations

LONDON — Britain's leading business lobby group set out a series of proposals Wednesday that it hopes can secure its future following a string of allegations of inappropriate behaviour that led to the cancellation of membership subscriptions from some of the country's biggest companies.

In a statement, the Confederation of British Industry said it will ask its members to vote on the proposals to improve its governance structures and internal culture at an extraordinary general meeting on June 5.

It said its “ambitious” program of change has been based upon discussions with more than 1,000 business leaders, and will result in a “renewed CBI."

The CBI has been rocked by multiple sexual misconduct allegations, including rape, in recent months, which prompted dozens of household names, including automaker BMW, banking firm NatWest and insurance group Aviva, to ditch their membership of the organization. The scale of the outrage raised questions over whether the CBI could survive.

The business lobby group hired law firm Fox Williams to investigate the specific allegations. They have made 34 recommendations, which have been accepted in full and will be mostly implemented by the time of next week's meeting. It also hired ethics consultancy Principia Advisory to examine its culture.

The CBI said it plans to speed up the hunt for a successor to its president and promised a “refreshed board" and the creation of a new People and Culture subcommittee of the board. It said it will also establish an external expert Culture Advisory Committee and bolster its internal training and communications.

While unveiling its proposals, the business lobby group dismissed allegations that its culture has been toxic, citing the findings from Principia.

“Blanket descriptions of the CBI’s culture being toxic are not correct, but we have work to do to embed a consistent set of values for all of our staff,” said new director-general Rain Newton-Smith.

At the special meeting next week, the CBI's members will be asked to vote on the question: “Do the changes we have made — and the commitments we have set out — to reform our governance, culture, and purpose give you the confidence you need to support the CBI?”

Failure to get the motion through could spell the demise of the organization, which was established in 1965 to ensure business's voice is heard within the government.

“We need a strong voice of business, backed by a depth of economic analysis and insights from across the whole economy and entire country," said Newton-Smith.


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