Unilever has halted its membership of the CBI, the FMCG giant one of a series of major companies to act today (21 April) after a second allegation of rape at the UK business lobby group.

“Due to the very serious and ongoing allegations, we can confirm that we have suspended our membership of the CBI,” a Unilever spokesperson told Just Food.

Earlier today, The Guardian reported allegations from a woman who said she was raped by two male colleagues when she worked at the CBI.

The claims follow allegations from a second woman, who has said she was raped by a male colleague at a party in 2019.

Last week, police in the City of London opened an investigation into allegations made by more than a dozen women of misconduct by managers at the CBI, The Guardian said.

Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, said today it has “paused our membership of the CBI with immediate effect”. It added: “We are deeply concerned by these very serious allegations.”

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Diageo, the beer and spirits group, has “paused engagement” with the organisation, our sister site Just Drinks reported.

The CBI says it represents 190,000 businesses employing seven million staff. It does not publish a list of its members but throughout the day various UK media outlets have reported business after business that has either quit the organisation or paused its membership.

According to the BBC, Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second-largest grocer, has put its membership on hold.

The broadcaster reported that UK retailer John Lewis had quit the CBI “due to the further very serious and ongoing allegations”.

In a statement responding to the latest allegations carried by The Guardian, CBI president Brian McBride said: “The latest allegations put to us by The Guardian are abhorrent and our hearts go out to any women who have been victims of the behaviour described. While the CBI was not previously aware of the most serious allegations, it is vital that they are thoroughly investigated now and we are liaising closely with the police to help ensure any perpetrators are brought to justice.”

The Guardian also reported today that the CBI had in 2018 upheld a complaint by a woman at the organisation’s office in London of harassment by a male colleague. Citing unnamed sources, the publication said the woman was discouraged from taking the matter to the police, while the colleague who allegedly harassed her kept his job.

McBride said: “We recognise the substance of the harassment report outlined as relating to an allegation made and investigated in January 2018. The finding of harassment was upheld and a sanction was imposed.

“However, the CBI does not recognise many of the most serious elements of the Guardian story relating to harassment, including the assertion that the individual had told the CBI of feelings of a sexual and violent nature towards the victim; and that he had followed her home.

“Neither is the CBI aware and our records do not support the report that the CBI discouraged her from referring the matter to the police.

“We are rightly undertaking an urgent root and branch review of our culture to right the wrongs where we can and to reform our workplace for everyone.”

CBI suspends membership activity

In a statement published later in the day, a statement from the CBI board said: “The CBI shares the shock and revulsion at the events that have taken place in our organisation, and at past failures that allowed these events to happen. We are deeply sorry and express our profound regret to the women who have endured these horrific experiences.

“We have listened carefully to what our colleagues, members and stakeholders have said over recent days and weeks. We have heard loud and clear a demand for far-reaching change.

“We want to properly understand from our colleagues, members, experts and stakeholders how they envisage our future role and purpose. As a result, we have taken the difficult but necessary decision to suspend all policy and membership activity until an extraordinary general meeting in June.

“Our members have told us in recent days and weeks that they believe in the importance of a collective voice to inform national policy and the unique role that an organisation like the CBI can play in public life. But much needs to change if we are to win back their trust so we may continue to represent business at this critical time for the country.”