Image credit: The Hamilton Group
Update: Video of the trial is now included in this post.
When I wrote about a planned mock ecocide trial to explore what would happen if CEOs were held responsible for their companies' destruction of the environment, commenters wished it could happen in real life. While that reality is not yet with us, the mock trial has gone ahead—and the verdict came back "guilty".
But what does it all mean? Organized by The Hamilton Group, the ecocide trial held in the UK Supreme Court was much more than a publicity stunt or a protest action. It was a carefully planned exploration of what true accountability would mean if CEOs willfully disregarded protection of the environment in the course of doing business.
Exploring two indictments against fictional Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Bannerman of Global Petroleum Company (GPC) and fictional Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Tench of Glamis Group for the creation of fictional tailing ponds in the (I wish) fictional tar sands of Canada, and one fictional indictment against Mr Bannerman for a fictional oil spill caused by an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the whole storyline was more than a little familiar.
The Independent reports that the final verdict came back guilty in relation to the Canadian operations, and not guilty with regards to Mr Bannerman's culpability in the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course from Gibson Guitar's troubles over illegal rainforest timber to BP facing criminal charges for an (entirely unrelated) oil spill, there are already laws in place that impact corporate operations. But as The Independent explains, the key point in the ecocide trial is exactly who is held responsible:
Mr Mansfield claimed deaths and injury to more than 4,000 birds had been caused during oil spill, for which GPC accepted responsibility. Controversially, though, the proposed law would place criminal responsibility on the respective CEOs Messrs Bannerman and Tench personally, rather than on the firms.
Christopher Parker QC, for the defence, told the jury to "keep a sense of perspective" when comparing ecocide to war crimes and called his clients "scapegoats extraordinaire". Proposals to declare attacks on the natural environment an international crime against peace began in earnest in 2008 when launched at the United Nations by British lawyer Polly Higgins. She is seeking to pressure governments to vote for her proposals if they are accepted by the UN Law commission.
Check out Matt's review of Polly Higgins' book Eradicating Ecocide for more on efforts to criminalize large-scale destruction of our shared natural world.
On a side note, we are used to seeing corporate sponsorship of tree plantings and recycling drives. It was good to see sponsors from Budgens Supermarkets through At The Summit Business Software & 3PB Barristers to Ecotricity stepping up and supporting this trial. Not every business is afraid of being held accountable.
More on Ecocide
How Can We Eliminate Ecocide?
BP Facing Criminal Charges Over Gulf of Mexico Spill
What If Ecocide Was a Crime? Let's Find Out