The current Corporate Responsibility Network evolved out of what used to be a Corporate Crime Network, originally set up in 2009 at the University of Essex, School of Law. To see what our old website used to look like, please click here.
The research activities that led to the establishment of the Corporate Crime Network centred on an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project aimed at advancing our understanding of the principles that should inform a just law of corporate and white-collar criminal liability. One corollary of that understanding was to examine practical issues to do with the enforcement of such laws worldwide, and this was the focus of some of the work of the Network’s leaders both before and after the official set up of this international Network. But there are other, wider directions into which such research could grow, well beyond the legal aspects of the topic. One could explore, for example, the socio-political contexts and mechanisms associated with the introduction, enforcement, or lack of relevant laws and regulations (which could amount to some degree of state-corporate complicity); or the history of ideas that informed various sets of criminal justice system – a sort of philosophical genealogy of corporate laws and responsibility; the cultural considerations that explain different types of corporate governance (and associated corporate behaviour); or indeed ethical aspects to do with one legal framework or another, or with one business strategy or another.
Much of the work of current members of the Network focuses on such ethical, sociological, economic, and philosophical issues. But we continue to treasure and feed upon the socio-legal core of our initial project – namely, the issue of corporate criminal liability and how it is dealt with in different jurisdictions, as well as practical challenges concerning the enforcement of any corporate accountability laws and regulations.
In an era where there is still insufficient research on corporate and white-collar crime, accompanied by a growing awareness of the potentially catastrophic consequences of corporate gross negligence and grossly deficient risk management by corporate executives, it is vital to continue investigating both the legal issues surrounding corporate offences (when they occur), and the economic, socio-political, cultural and moral background that can help understand, prevent and address these, before and after they occur.
Events in recent decades have heightened awareness of the harm that companies and corporate executives that carry on their businesses in a grossly negligent manner can cause. The result may be economic loss on a massive scale, as evidenced by the collapse of such well-regarded companies as Lehman Brothers, Enron, Parmalat, Worldcom and Barings Bank. Or the costs may be measured in terms of deaths and serious injuries, as occurred in Bhopal, Chernobyl, the Paris crash of the Concorde, the capsize of the Herald of Free Enterprise and the rail crashes at Southall, Paddington and Hatfield. Or indeed, the effects of corporate negligence may be measured in major environmental disasters, as we have seen in the Gulf of Mexico. In many instances, the legal response to such occurrences is inconclusive or unsatisfactory both in the civil and criminal courts; moreover, even when an appropriate settlement is reached, it does not entail an admission of guilt, and therefore does not amount to any meaningful sense of profound justice. This indicates a lack of clarity or effective enforcement on the legal side of corporate accountability (if not sheer impotence in some jurisdictions), and a total lack of will and effort on the moral side of corporate responsibility. Families of victims of economic, environmental or health-and-safety disasters often complain of a lack of meaningful justice being achieved in their cases in both a legal and a moral sense of the word – and this is something to do with both individual and organisational responsibility. When a company fails to apologise to those affected by its wrong-doings, this is a human and a social failure as much as its lack of accountability is a legal one. The widening of the scope of the Network’s research area in recent years reflects this complexity of aspects that are intertwined in most situations involving a corporate governance, responsibility, or liability issue.
The initial project, including the website, was managed by Professor Gobert and Dr Pascal. Professor Gobert has taught and published extensively in the field of corporate crime over a 15-year period. Dr Pascal was the UK Director of the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA), a London-based charity concerned with worker and public safety. During their collaboration on this project, Prof Gobert and Dr Pascal published a book on European Developments in Corporate Criminal Liability (2011, Routledge). For details, please refer to our Publications page.
In 2011, Prof Gobert retired from full-time teaching, and Dr Pascal took over the Network. She is currently Senior Lecturer and Pathway Leader for American Postgraduate Programmes at Regent’s University London, where she teaches Corporate Responsibility and Society, Business Ethics, and White-Collar Crime. The project has benefited from the support of the University of Bristol Law School (in 2012-2013) and is now supported by Regent’s University London.
The website is envisaged as a home for news, commentary, and papers on a wide range of corporate accountability issues – from their socio-cultural and moral background, to their legal and economic implications. Main topics centre on the issues of corporate responsibility, business and human rights, corporate crime and white collar crime, with secondary aspects like corporate governance, directors’ duties, and sentencing being clustered together with the former ones.
The blog is intended to be a space for reflection and dialogue, rather than a repository of theory. Given the complexity of the matters at stake, it seeks more to ask questions and invite live interdisciplinary debates on individual aspects, than to find overarching solutions. It is aimed at the concrete, rather than the general. Since we believe that one victim, species, or community affected by negligent corporate behaviour is one too many, we suggest that discussing one case at a time or highlighting one inconsistency in applying generic norms and principles may be worth at least as much, if not more than knowing those very moral and legal norms. Comments are invited from anybody with an interest in the subject matter.
The website is constantly monitored and updated, and it aims to provide information on relevant legislative and judicial developments, new cases of interest, ethical debates, publications, and upcoming conferences. It is hoped to prove an effective vehicle for reaching not only professional audiences but also members of the general public who share our concerns on the mushrooming generated by corporate and white collar wrongdoing, as well as wider corporate responsibility issues. We hope that you find the website stimulating, and we welcome any contributions or suggestions that you wish to make.