Country Road staff ordered to stop speaking out about sexual assault allegations

Country Road staff ordered to stop speaking out about sexual assault allegations
Image: GiselleA, Shutterstock

This story was originally published in the Star Observer


The CEO of the Country Road Group has reportedly sent out an email ordering staff not to speak to media about the major sexual assault allegations that have been made against a former executive. 

Last year, multiple sexual assault and harassment allegations from male and female staff were filed against former senior executive Rachid Maliki.

On Tuesday morning (May 28), Roy Bagattini, the group chief executive of Country Road’s parent company Woolworths Holdings, sent a company-wide email expressing disappointment about the media coverage of the allegations, and telling staff to refer all media requests to the company rather than speak to journalists themselves. 

The Herald Sun gained a copy of the email, which read:

“You are no doubt aware that some of our team members have pre-emptively engaged with the media and this has resulted in various speculative news reports,” he said.

“The external attention on our company, through these news articles, can be unsettling and comes at a difficult time for yourselves but also for us as a company.

“Should you be contacted by the media, please refer them to Leonie Mayson, Group Communications Manager.

“I would again urge everyone to allow the process to conclude and allow for the facts to inform the outcome.”

Bagattini also referenced the internal investigation that is currently underway, telling staff that the report was “almost complete”.

Staff believe whistleblower media coverage forced company to act

Sources from within the company believe that it was only because they spoke to the media that action is actually being taken, and that the media coverage seems to have forced the company to pay attention and complete a formal investigation.

“Miraculous that the report is now ready, a month earlier than planned,” a source told the Herald Sun

Country Road Group released a statement confirming that “some team members” gave Country Road “feedback” about the “handling of their complaints”, and that the parent company has since taken “prompt action”.

“The Country Road Group (CRG) takes any complaint of harassment, including sexual harassment, very seriously and has a zero-tolerance policy for matters of this nature,” the statement reads.

“This independent review is currently in its final stages, the outcomes of which are expected to be shared with CRG team members in June.

“It is critically important to us that our workplace is one where all team members feel safe, valued and included.

“We sincerely thank team members for speaking up and raising their concerns.”

Allegations against Country Road exec came from multiple sources

Allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment by Rachid Maliki were lodged by multiple staff members in October last year.

The allegations include reports of repeated harassment of staff members including unsolicited touching and kissing. Both male and female staff members came forward to lodge reports about Maliki’s conduct. 

After the allegations were lodged with the company, Maliki resigned from his position as a senior executive of the Country Road Group.

Maliki previously worked as a general manager at RM Williams. It’s also alleged from multiple sources that Maliki faced similar allegations while working at RM Williams. 

Melbourne legal firms take on investigation into alleged cover-up

The Herald Sun also reported on Monday that two Melbourne legal firms have been appointed to investigate the series of allegations, and staff’s claims of an alleged cover-up by the company’s CEO, Raju Vuppalapati – a long-time friend of Maliki.

“People were definitely angry that action wasn’t taken sooner, it shouldn’t have taken multiple people coming forward,” a whistleblower from within the company told the Herald Sun.

“It was as if Raju was trying to protect his mate and cover it up.

“The place is burning at the moment. Everyone is so unhappy and so disappointed in management and what they continue to do to us.”

“I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Rachid resigned.”

Star Observer contacted Country Road Group for comment, but had not received a response at time of publication.

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