What’s the problem?
Irresponsible UK multinationals are getting away with seriously harming people and the environment around the world. It’s difficult to hold them to account for wrong-doing in the UK and when the damage happens somewhere else, it’s out of sight, out of mind.
Despite many allegations of serious human rights abuses linked to UK companies’ international operations, no firm has been put on trial for their actions. The result is corporate impunity on a massive scale.
What’s CORE doing about it?
CORE and our partner organisations, including Corruption Watch, Amnesty International and Global Witness, are calling on the government to overhaul the corporate liability regime to enable prosecutors to go after large firms accused of involvement in global corruption and human rights abuses.
We supported amendments to a recent Bill in parliament, the Criminal Finances Bill, calling for the introduction of a ‘failure to prevent economic crime’ offence. This offence would put the onus on companies to prove they have the right procedures in place to prevent a multitude of white collar crimes – including false accounting, money laundering and fraud.
The Criminal Finances Bill has now concluded, but we continue to campaign for legal reform. We submitted evidence to the Government’s consultation on economic crime and await to hear its plans to tackle major financial scandals, such as the LIBOR and Foreign Exchange (FOREX) rate-rigging.
Driving long term change
We would like to see the ‘failure to prevent’ model extended so that British companies can be held responsible for serious crimes. The government has already acknowledged that the corporate liability regime is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Under current laws, prosecutors must prove that senior board level executives intended misconduct to occur. This is known as the ‘directing mind’ test. According to the Law Commission this test makes it ‘impossibly difficult’ to prosecute large firms. For instance, no charges were brought against News Group Newspapers in the phone hacking scandal and G4S for the death of detainee on a deportation flight because prosecutors did not have the necessary evidence to meet this test.
Replacing the directing mind test with a requirement on companies to show that they had procedures in place to prevent misconduct and abuses occurring would make it much easier to hold them to account, including for environmental devastation, modern slavery and other human rights abuses linked to their international operations.
For too long reckless and rogue companies have been let off the hook. We are calling on the UK government to honour its commitment to get tough on irresponsible business through bold reform.
IVORY COAST: TRAFIGURA’S ACCOUNTABILITY FOR DUMPING TOXIC WASTE
On 19 August 2006 toxic waste was dumped in multiple locations in the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, causing a major social and environmental catastrophe. Over 100,000 people sought medical assistance, 15 deaths were recorded, and extensive clean-up was required.
The waste was produced when international oil trader Trafigura used caustic soda to “wash” a sulphurous petroleum product at sea. After trying and failing to dispose of the toxic waste in Malta, Italy, Gibraltar, The Netherlands and Nigeria, Trafigura eventually dumped 500 tons in Abidjan.
The company denied any knowledge of how the waste was disposed, however Amnesty International showed evidence of Trafigura’s London-based staff conspiring to dump the waste. This included emails between various UK-based staff members as well as Trafigura’s founder and CEO.
Amnesty approached various UK authorities, urging them to consider a criminal investigation into Trafigura’s actions, however after a frustrating lack of engagement, in March 2015 the Environment Agency announced it would not pursue an investigation due to a lack of legal expertise and resources. Other commentators have attributed the decision to “a lack of will” to tackle corporate crime, and concerning given the agency’s own acknowledgement that if the allegations were true, a serious crime had been committed.
TANZANIA: ACACIA MINING’S ALLEGED COMPLICITY IN KILLINGS AND INJURIES
Acacia Mining has been accused of using excessive force in attempts to deter local Tanzanians from entering its North Mara gold mine compound. In May 2011, police shot dead at least six people as locals tried to collect rocks bearing small amounts of gold at the site. A group of 12 Tanzanians filed a lawsuit in the UK against African Barrick Gold (now Acacia Mining) claiming that the company was complicit in the killings. Acacia Mining reached an out of court settlement with the claimants in February 2015, details of which have not been publicly disclosed.
Law firm Leigh Day originally represented 33 claimants, however the number was rapidly reduced as the Acacia Mining approached some of the clients offering to sign them up to the mine’s remedy programme. Individuals who signed up to the programme were also asked to sign a confidential legal waiver committing them to secrecy and giving up their right to bring future legal claims against the company.
NGOs claim that that this remedy programme is not transparent and fails to consider many other victims of abuse – including killings, injuries and sexual harassment – which do not have adequate access to remedy.
For more information on examples of corporate abuse please see CORE’s publication, The Bottom Line