The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has sacked director-general Tony Danker and suspended three others after an investigation into complaints of workplace misconduct at the UK’s largest business lobby.
Danker had recently ‘stepped aside’ while an independent investigation was launched amid reports of him acting inappropriately towards employees.
It was following reports of the probe being launched that several more women came forward with similar accusations levelled at senior leaders within the CBI, including claims of attempted sexual assaults, explicit images being sent to young female staff and even a report of rape.
Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI’s former chief economist, has taken over as the new director-general.
A statement from the CBI said: “The allegations that have been made over recent weeks about the CBI have been devastating. While investigations continue into a number of these, it is already clear to all of us that there have been serious failings in how we have acted as an organisation. We must do better, and we must be better.
“We apologise to the victims of this organisational failure, including those impacted by the revulsion we have all felt at hearing their stories. Nobody should feel unsafe in their workplace.
The statement went on: “...we must be a place where colleagues are safe, valued and respected, and where there is zero tolerance for behaviour that falls short of those expectations.”
The statement concluded: "We know it will take time for these steps to make a difference and rebuild trust. We will not hesitate to take any measures necessary in the meantime to act on further findings or complaints that arise from ongoing investigations”.
The CBI confirmed three other employees were suspended pending further investigation into a number of ongoing allegations.
"The CBI is liaising with the police and has made clear its intention to cooperate fully with any police investigations," the statement said.
Following his dismissal, Danker said he was "truly sorry" that he had "unintentionally made a number of colleagues feel uncomfortable” but added: "I was nevertheless shocked to learn this morning that I had been dismissed from the CBI, instead of being invited to put my position forward as was originally confirmed. Many of the allegations against me have been distorted.”
CBI allegations put spotlight on tackling workplace harassment
The high-profile nature of the situation has already drawn attention to the issue of workplace harassment.
Recent research uncovered that a fifth of people worldwide (21%) have experienced at least one form of violence and harassment at work in their working lifetime. And while the glass-half-fullers among us will find it reassuring that almost 80% of employees haven’t been subjected to this behaviour, even one in five victims is one too many.
This is especially true when you look further into the research, which found that a majority of those who had experienced violence and harassment at work had experienced it multiple times – 61% in instances of psychological harassment, and 56% and 52% respectively for physical or sexual violence and harassment, highlighting a need for a zero-tolerance approach.
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The data features in a new report – Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment – which is based on the 2021 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup. 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their experiences of workplace harassment and violence, as well as the nature and frequency of it.
The report also found that, at a global level, men were fractionally more likely to report experience of workplace violence and harassment than women (22% vs 20%), though its nature varies between the sexes. While psychological harassment was found to be the most common form experienced by both men and women, it was found that for a third of women (33%) who had experienced violence or harassment, there was a sexual element (compared with for 15% of men). The survey found that men’s second most common experience was a combination of psychological and physical violence and harassment (accounting for 20% or one in five male experiences), while for women it was sexual violence and harassment.
Elizabeth Gardiner, CEO at Protect, a UK whistleblowing charity, said it was concerning that there has been a further wave of whistleblowers at CBI raising fresh allegations against the organisation through the press.
“This reiterates the message that the staff do not feel that internal processes are adequate enough to investigate or respond quickly enough to their concerns, or that they are fearful of coming forward in case of negative repercussions for their position at work,” said Gardiner.
“We strongly recommend that the CBI reviews its whistleblowing procedures so that staff can safely raise whistleblowing concerns internally.
“This should include consistent training both for individuals on how to voice concerns about wrongdoing - including sexual misconduct - and for managers on how to be good recipients of bad news or criticism.
“The CBI should have processes to address misconduct identified by whistleblowers and put in measures to help prevent it in the future.”