More women accuse past CBI president John Allan of behaving badly

The president of the CBI has admitted he does not know if it can win back trust while setting out how it plans to bolster its culture amid the sexual misconduct scandal engulfing the business lobby group.

The former president of the CBI and current chairman of Tesco is facing further claims of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour.

John Allan, a veteran City figure who is also chairman of Barratt Developments, the housebuilder, allegedly touched the bottom of a senior Tesco employee in June at the retailer’s annual general meeting, according to The Guardian.

Allan, 74, is also alleged to have touched the bottom of a colleague at the annual dinner of the CBI in May 2019 when he was the president of the business lobby group.

It reported last month by The times that Allan was the subject of a separate complaint by a female colleague at the CBI over a “wholly inappropriate, demeaning and objectifying” comment. He had allegedly told a mid-ranking CBI manager, shortly before Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech as Labour Party leader at the CBI’s annual conference in November 2019: “That dress really suits your figure”.

Allan was president of the CBI between 2018 and 2020 and then vice-president until October 2021. The lobby group is in crisis after the government and some of Britain’s biggest companies cut ties last month after separate, more serious allegations by members of staff of sexual misconduct and rape.

Allan is alleged to have made inappropriate remarks during the incidents in June 2022 and May 2019 as well as a similar comment to another female member of CBI staff in 2021. Some of the women are said to have been offended by the alleged actions and considered it sexual harassment.

He denies all the allegations, except the comment made in November 2019. A spokesman for Allan said he “was mortified after making the comment in 2019 and he immediately apologised. The person concerned agreed the matter was closed and no further action was taken. Regarding the other claims, they are simply untrue.

“Even so, Mr Allan requested that Tesco and Fox Williams — who were instructed by the CBI to conduct an investigation following various allegations — investigate them. Fox Williams decided not to, and Tesco are not aware of and have not received any complaints about Mr Allan’s conduct either at the 2022 AGM or over the eight years that he has been chair of Tesco.”

Fox Williams has been approached for comment, including on whether the firm will now investigate the claims. The CBI declined to comment.

Tesco, where Allan has been chairman since 2015, said his conduct “has never been the subject of a complaint during his tenure as chair of Tesco”.

A spokeswoman said: “At Tesco, we are committed to ensuring all colleagues are respected and feel safe at work. Tesco’s people policies apply to all colleagues, and all concerns or complaints raised about conduct are always taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly. This is a serious allegation, and if anyone has any concerns or information, we would ask them to share those with us through any of our reporting channels including through our confidential Protector Line, so we can investigate.”

Allan led the CBI during the period when some of the most serious alleged incidents to have emerged in recent weeks are said to have taken place. They include an allegation of rape at a CBI summer staff boat party on the River Thames in 2019, which is being investigated by City of London police.

Brian McBride, CBI president since last year and a former chief executive of Amazon in the UK, said last month that there “have been serious failings in how we have acted as an organisation”. He apologised “to the victims of this organisational failure”.

After the comment in November 2019, the woman reported it to the CBI’s deputy director-general at the event, who in turn raised it with Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, then director-general.

Fairbairn, 62, the first woman in the role, is understood to have spoken to the manager at the event and then to Allan, and viewed it as “wholly inappropriate, demeaning and objectifying”.

After speaking with Fairbairn, Allan offered to apologise to the manager, which he did.

A source with knowledge of the incident said: “It was a stupid, awful, insensitive and insulting thing to say.” The source added that the manager believed the incident was dealt with decisively.

Another source with knowledge of the incident said the comment was out of character for Allan and that they had “never seen any signs of that kind of behaviour before”. Another former CBI employee said Allan was a “known dinosaur” at the organisation.