Diageo has defended the annual salary paid to its CEO from accusations that the GBP5.1m (US$10.27) paid to Paul Walsh was "morally offensive".

A survey in today's (29 August) Guardian newspaper of salaries paid to UK business executives found that Walsh came in ninth highest in the country. In connection with the survey, when contacted by the newspaper, the general secretary of the UK's Trade Union Conference, Brendan Barber, said that top directors were "losing touch with reality" and described the disparity in rewards between executives and regular workers as "morally offensive".

When contacted by just-drinks, a spokesperson for Diageo declined to comment specifically on Barber's comments, but added that the salary paid to Walsh "is comparable with other global market leaders based in the UK".

"The remuneration of Diageo's executive directors is set by the Diageo remuneration committee in line with best practice," the spokesperson continued. "Paul's remuneration reflects his successful track record as chief executive."

Since becoming CEO seven years ago, Walsh has led Diageo's "strategic realignment behind premium drinks, the successful restructure of our business, during which we continued to build our brands, and reported strong performance," the spokesperson continued.

The company's last set of full-year results saw profits hit GBP2bn, while around GBP2.25bn was returned to shareholders through share buy-backs and dividends, the spokesperson noted.

"Under Paul's leadership Diageo continues to drive sustainable growth and to improve against those financial measures that we believe to be the real drivers of shareholder value: operating margin, return on capital and free cash flow," the spokesperson concluded.

Also appearing in the top ten of highest paid CEOs in the UK was Giles Thorley, head of pub and brewing group Punch Taverns. Thorley came in second, with an annual salary of GBP11.2m.