CBI Investigation

The Guardian

Anna Isaac’s investigation into the Confederation of British Industry was a standout piece of investigative journalism.

It had a huge impact, was followed up here and abroad, forced the CBI into wholesale reform and provoked national debate. The sexual misconduct scandal uncovered by Isaac shook one of Britain’s most influential institutions to its core. The CBI is still reeling from the consequences, as big corporations assess whether they can still rely on it to represent them. Isaac revealed multiple allegations including rape and sexual harassment, with a series of stories that exposed what the CBI eventually admitted were deep failings involving toxic individuals that led to “terrible consequences”. Her stories led to resignations and suspensions within the CBI, and the government and Labour suspended contact with it. The CBI admitted that it had lost the trust of members and staff, and that it needed fundamental reform. The painstaking investigation began with an anonymous tip-off, leading to weeks of research, interviews and corroboration as dozens of people came forward. Isaac’s work sparked a debate about the way women in business are treated, including sexist and misogynistic behaviour. No other media outlet had ever revealed such allegations about the CBI, which enjoyed a privileged position with regular access to the PM and cabinet, and frequent media appearances. Following Isaac’s investigation, the City of London Police launched an investigation, the CBI’s director-general Tony Danker was dismissed, and John Allan stepped down as chairman of Tesco and Barratt Homes. CBI president Brian McBride admitted the organisation had “badly let down its staff” and “failed to filter out culturally toxic people”, and that it compounded matters by failing to handle sexual harassment complaints properly. Isaac’s dogged, patient reporting earned the trust of sources, who recounted some of the worst moments of their lives. This included graphic descriptions and evidence of violent rape, and feeling harassed on a daily basis. Isaac puts facts, compassion and rigour at the heart of her work, winning the trust of multiple women who recounted their experiences at the CBI. She painstakingly compiled timelines of the actions of alleged perpetrators, to back up claims of a toxic culture. This required courage and determination, as it collided with powerful vested interests. Her reporting resulted in swift change: key UK corporations quit the CBI, the government and Labour cut ties with it, and it was forced to overhaul its culture and management. Leading industry figures described the investigation as a wake-up call for business, with City financier Dame Helena Morrissey saying: “We can’t have young women look and think: ‘I’m not going to join industry, I’m not going to go into the business world’ because it’s a terrible culture and terrible things can happen.” Isaac put the voices of vulnerable women and men who felt silenced by a broken internal complaints process at the heart of her work. Her investigation underlined the media’s critical public-interest role with rape conviction rates shockingly low, and internal complaints proceedures often failing to keep workers safe.