The CBI said on Monday that it was expanding an inquiry into misconduct at the industry trade body after allegations of sexual harassment, cocaine use and rape emerged, separate to earlier claims about director-general Tony Danker.
Danker stood aside last month pending the outcome of an independent investigation by law firm Fox Williams into allegations of sexual harassment made against him by a female employee.
The expanded inquiry will look into further allegations unrelated to those against Danker. They were first reported in the Guardian newspaper on Monday and made by more than a dozen women, all of whom are current or former employees of the CBI.
The women claim to have been victims of various forms of sexual harassment by senior officials at the organisation. One alleges she was raped at a summer staff party on a boat on the river Thames in 2019. A second woman claims to have been sexually assaulted at the same event.
The inquiry will also look into allegations of cocaine use at official CBI events.
The organisation declined to comment on specific allegations.
“The CBI has treated and continues to treat all matters of workplace conduct with the utmost seriousness, which is why last month, we commissioned a thorough investigation by an independent law firm into all recent allegations that have been put to us,” the CBI said.
It added: “It would undermine this important process and be damaging and prejudicial to all the individuals involved to comment on these allegations at this point. We will not hesitate to take any necessary action when the investigation concludes.”
The terms of reference of the investigation have been expanded in light of the new allegations, which have been brought to the attention of the organisation in the past two weeks. The CBI vigorously denied suggestions that it was handling the inquiry in a way that could be intimidating to the alleged victims.
“We would be horrified if anyone felt they could not speak out about any concerns of this type,” it said.
“This is not a culture we recognise or would tolerate but we have in place a fully independent system, including a dedicated external HR specialist, to hear all such concerns and will not hesitate to take whatever action is required to ensure people do not fear retribution for coming forward.”
Danker, who has championed workplace diversity and gender balance since taking over at director-general of the CBI in 2020, has apologised profusely for causing offence or anxiety to any colleague, and said last month this was “completely unintentional”. He said he was co-operating fully with the review.
The expanded inquiry comes at a delicate moment for the CBI, which represents some of Britain’s biggest businesses such as Tesco, Unilever, Deloitte and Barclays, and which has been working to restore stronger relations with government after a rocky period in which the two clashed over the impact of Brexit on British businesses.