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UK's finance world wakes to sexual harassment in the workplace

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LONDON A series of public sackings, suspensions and departures suggests that Britain's finance world is waking up to the implications of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.

The changes come a year after the #MeToo movement exploded into public consciousness with multiple allegations of predatory sexual behaviour against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The campaign, in which women from a range of professions went public with allegations of harassment, spread to Britain. And some of the most high-profile cases have come from inside the testosterone-fuelled world of business.

Some senior female executives who have already broken the glass ceiling have been instrumental in accelerating the pace of change.

At the beginning of the week, four major British auditing firms - Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and FY - announced they had fired staff accused of sexual harassment or workplace bullying.

Deloitte revealed that it had fired 20 of its partners in Britain over the last four years for bullying and sexual harassment.

In January, the Financial Times exposed sexual harassment of hostesses at an all-male London charity dinner at the Presidents Club, attended by 360 businessmen and politicians.

Companies whose executives had attended rushed to distance themselves from the event and, within days of the scandal breaking, condemnation led the club to announce its closure.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that one of HSBC'S London-based executives had left the bank after being accused by a younger female staffer of "inappropriate conduct" in a New York hotel bar.

HSBC said: "An allegation was made against an individual. We dealt with it directly, robustly and appropriately."

In the insurance industry, around 50 companies signed up to a good conduct charter, the Inclusive Behaviours Pledge, to try to counter the problem of harassment.

One of its backers was Ms Inga Beale, then chief executive of Lloyds of London and known as an advocate for a more welcoming environment for women in business. She described the charter as a commitment "to challenge inappropriate behaviour and create increasingly welcoming and inclusive workplaces for the diverse talent powering our sector".

There have been other revelations beyond high finance.

Earlier this month, clothing company Ted Baker announced that chief executive Ray Kelvin had agreed to take a leave of absence after a series of "serious allegations" against him.

The company is carrying out an independent investigation after reports that hundreds of current and former staff members had signed a petition complaining about his behaviour.

Allegations included "forced hugs" and forcing people to sit on his knee.

In October, fashion tycoon Philip Green was named as the executive who used the courts to try to stop the publication of allegations of harassment against him by five employees.

Lord Peter Hain, a member of the House of Lords, used parliamentary privilege to name Mr Green after the Daily Telegraph reported the allegations - but said a court injunction prevented it from naming the executive concerned.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, that sparked a debate about the use by the rich of injunctions - and non-disclosure agreements - to escape the scandals their conduct would otherwise cause. - AFP

BUSINESS & FINANCE