It is the absence of corporate criminal justice law that enables this behaviour.
That much business behaviour today is neither ethical, moral or sustainable in any industry is hardly news to observers of corporate conduct. Beyond this universal lack of sustainability, far too much corporate behaviour is plainly illegal.
Corporate (white-collar) crime is widespread, massive in scale and totally and deliberately ignored by governments and their law enforcement agencies. You can go to jail for many years for stealing from a convenience store, but nobody goes to jail when companies steal billions. Unsurprisingly then that the total scale of corporate criminal conduct is unknown; this is also the case in Australia.
The best estimate from the US is that only 5% of corporate crimes ever come to light. So, it comes as no surprise that while 8.6% of the adult population, in the USA, has a felony conviction, less than 0.03% of corporations do. This is not because corporations are somehow much better behaved than the individuals who compose them. A 2019 publication, The Frequency of Corporate Misconduct: Public Enforcement versus Private Reality, showed that large corporations commit on average two incidents of major financial crime each week.
All this makes it immediately clear that in the absence of meaningful consequences there is a high incentive for corporate criminals to continue with their behaviour.
In finishing, let’s go back to a statement in the abstract of the paper, But We Haven’t Got Corporate Criminal Law!
“The abolitionists won long ago… through craftiness rather than force of reason. By arguing that the United States should get rid of corporate criminal law, abolitionists have staged a debate the presumes corporate criminal law in fact exists. It does not, and it never has. The greatest trick the abolitionist ever pulled was convincing everyone to think otherwise and then duping their opponents into arguing for the status quo.”
I am encouraged that lawyers are turning their attention to cases that address the loss of biodiversity. It is often the judicial systems in countries, and not politicians, that drive the changes needed.
To support this change, as a society we must ask ourselves, “Will we continue to let corporations stand in the way of modernising international governance and law?”; this question also goes to corporate conservation agencies.
Will these global conservation organisations be a catalyst to speed up this change or will they continue to enable corporations to behave badly by supporting voluntary governance and certification schemes instead of lobbying for legislation and regulation to corral corporate behaviour? If businesses are not held accountable by governments and civil society, why should we be surprised that they prefer corporate greenwashing over meaningful action?