BRITAIN’S main business lobby, the CBI, won a survival vote on Tuesday (6) as members backed a cultural reset under new leadership after allegations of sexual misconduct threw the group into crisis.
Ninety-three per cent of voting members backed a resolution to put their confidence in the Confederation of British Industry to reform its “governance, culture, and purpose”, a statement said.
Ahead of the vote, the CBI had warned that the result would determine the fate of the nearly 60-year-old institution which has seen prominent corporate members quit in the wake of the allegations.
“After an incredibly tough period, I’m deeply grateful for the faith shown in us by our members,” said new CBI director general Rain Newton-Smith following the vote held at an extraordinary general meeting in London and online.
“We’ve made real progress in implementing the top-to-bottom programme of change promised by the board and, while there remains work to do, today’s result represents an important milestone on that journey.”
The CBI has faced claims that more than a dozen women were sexually harassed at the organisation and two others had been raped.
Police have launched an investigation following the allegations reported this year by The Guardian newspaper, triggering a shake-up at the organisation and the extraordinary vote on its future.
The allegations, described as “absolutely devastating” by Newton-Smith, caused an exodus of member companies – and the launch Monday of a rival body by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
‘We have listened’
“Let me be clear, we have listened, we have acted, and we will leave no stone unturned to be the best voice for business inside and out,” Newton-Smith added following the result of the vote.
The scandal comes as UK businesses look for leadership during a cost-of-living crisis, with the country’s elevated inflation cooling more slowly than expected.
Under Newton-Smith, the CBI has proposed the creation of a People & Culture Committee plus an external expert-led Culture Advisory Committee.
And it has created the role of chief people officer.
At the same time it is cutting jobs as the reduction in members slashes revenue.
In a move seen as taking advantage of the crisis, the BCC has launched the rival Business Council.
Founding partners include British energy group BP and Heathrow airport.
The BCC said it welcomed the result of Tuesday’s vote, seeing itself as a peer rather than rival to the CBI.
“Given the challenges facing the UK economy, it is vital for the business community to have a diverse range of voices representing their concerns and priorities into government,” BCC director general Shevaun Haviland said in a statement.
Newton-Smith on Tuesday said a revamped CBI could still be a powerful driving force, with its depth of expertise and practical business insights over decades.
“Even our competitor groups have admitted they can’t match all that,” she told delegates.