Questions over the future of the Confederation of British Industry deepened today after two of the UK’s biggest companies, Aviva and Phoenix, resigned their membership following new claims that a second woman was allegedly raped by two male colleagues. 

In another embarrassing move, the fund management giant, abrdn – where the CBI president, Brian McBride, is a non-executive director – is also said to be considering whether to resign as a member. Sky reports that abrdn only decided to rejoin the trade group after a request from McBride.

The latest decision by Avivia and Phoenix to quit the CBI follows reports in the Guardian that the woman claimed the alleged rape took place while she was unconscious following a night-out while working at a CBI office abroad. 

While she said she had no recollection of the rape itself, she has described in detail the physical signs that led her to believe she was raped. She was later presented in the office with an explicit photograph of herself where she appeared unconscious with a penis in her mouth – which she understood was that of one of the colleagues who allegedly raped her. 

The Guardian says it has seen the photograph, which the woman believes was taken at the same time as the alleged rape and which a second source has reportedly confirmed the contents of. She told the newspaper: “I don’t blame the CBI for being raped. I was really young and people took advantage of me after a night of drinking.

“I blame the CBI for an atmosphere that was allowed to feed into people’s sense of confidence. That they could act in this way and afterwards feel no worries, no fears of consequences. That they could feel somehow proud, in an office. That there wasn’t a person for me to speak to in HR who I knew of and could trust.”

It’s the second claim from a CBI employee that she was the victim of rape by a member of staff. The first rape claim came from a woman who said she was attacked by a manager at a summer boat party in 2019 and that she reported it to the human resources department. No action was taken.

A spokesman for Aviva, the insurance giant, said: “In light of the very serious allegations made, and the CBI’s handling of the process and response, we believe the CBI is no longer able to fulfil its core function – to be a representative voice of business in the UK. We have therefore regrettably terminated our membership with immediate effect.”

Phoenix, the retirement savings group, did the same: “Further to the allegations reported this morning, we have taken the decision to resign our membership of the CBI with immediate effect.” 

Aviva and Phoenix are the first companies to resign their membership following a wave of alleged sexual misconduct at the trade lobbying group and will be a major blow to its reputation. Several others, including M&S and Rolls-Royce, have said they will make up their minds once the results of the independent inquiry have been completed. But this latest rape claim may tip them over the edge.

As one member said: “One allegation of rape, along with other claims of misconduct is bad enough, but two? I’m not sure the CBI can survive this latest allegation.”

Details of the new rape allegation have been passed on to the City of London police.

These latest allegations are part of a flood of claims of sexual harassment against staff members which started with claims made against the director-general, Tony Danker, last month.

This prompted the CBI to appoint independent lawyers, Fox Williams, to investigate but also opened the floodgates to another dozen or so women making serious allegations against other staff.

Danker was sacked last week without a pay-off after the results of that inquiry, but he has since claimed that he had been “thrown under the bus” and that the claims against him did not merit his dismissal. He is said to be considering suing the CBI. 

Three other staff have been suspended. 

As if this latest claim isn’t enough, the Guardian also reports that another woman based in the CBI’s London office claimed she had been stalked by a male colleague in 2018.

What now for the CBI? It claims to be the voice of British industry, representing 190,000 members and speaks for seven million people. Membership is expensive, and varies according to size but can be up to £50,000 a year. As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head down. It’s hard to see how the organisation can recover from this tawdry episode. And we hear there are more complaints to come.

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