Corporate lawyer Robert Hinkley has a new idea: Legally change the goal of all companies to prevent them from causing severe harm to the environment. He calls it ‘The Code for Corporate Citizenship’ – eleven words to relieve the climate emergency and prevent it from ever happening again.
Code for Corporate Citizenship: Global Launch in Geelong
On 25 May 2023, Geelong will be the site for the worldwide launch of a new idea to combat global warming and climate change, The Code for Corporate Citizenship (The Code), a proposed amendment to the corporate law to make company directors more responsible for the effects of their companies on the environment.
At Geelong Library, an alliance of local climate groups will co-host a talk by Robert Hinkley, originator of The Code, and author of Time to Change Corporations: Closing the Citizenship Gap.
“We see The Code as a simple but effective approach to properly deal with the climate emergency. The idea is to balance directors’ duties by legally requiring them to be good corporate citizens. It may sound like a small change, but this could potentially have a game-changing impact on humanity’s efforts to reduce global carbon emissions,” said Mik Aidt, director of Centre for Climate Safety.
Vicki Perrett, Climate Advocate for Geelong Sustainability, said she was proud that Geelong was selected for the launch:
“Geelong stands at a crucial crossroad and the community is calling for urgent effective climate action. The Climate Emergency Declaration campaign was launched from Geelong, Adelaide and Melbourne in 2016. It has gone onto become a global movement with 2,329 councils in 40 different countries as well as 18 governments declaring a climate emergency – a figure still rising and now including 1 billion citizens. Adoptation of The Code could become the next big step.”
A dual Australian-American citizen, Robert Hinkley is a retired corporate lawyer with over 20 years’ experience advising large companies here and in the United States. He was a partner in the leading US firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, as well as being the principal advisor to the US Department of Justice in its investigations of investment banks for their role in the global financial crisis. These investigations recovered penalties and fines of more than $US 65 billion.
Mr Hinkley said: “All corporations are formed under government enacted laws. They should not be permitted to cause severe damage to the environment. Government’s job is to protect the public interest not give license to companies to destroy it. The Code will require all company directors to safeguard the environment from severe damage.”
The event will take place on the 5th floor of the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre at 5:00pm on Thursday 25 May 2023. General admission is $5.00. Tickets are available through Eventbrite
→ Geelong Times – 24 May 2023:
Code calls for corporate responsibility on environment
“An event to be held in Geelong next week will launch a worldwide push to legally prevent businesses from causing environmental damage.”
“Clearly we can’t be too far—and nor should we be—from a world in which directors are held personally responsible for the climate policies of their companies and institutions and for the statements they make about those policies. This would certainly focus the minds of these corporate leaders on their responsibilities, and perhaps spur them to work with their private sector peers and governments to accelerate a realistic transition to a low carbon Australia.”John Hewson, former Liberal leader, in The Saturday Paper on 6 May 2023
“In the future alien archeology textbook on “The Rise and Fall of Planetary Civilizations” the figure caption will read: “They knew and still their power-hungry politicians and greedy corporations didn’t do anything,” tweeted Peter Gleick as he posted a graph showing atmospheric CO2 versus the global temperature rise.
Changing Corporate Law to deal with this flaw is both necessary and possible – when enough people demand it.
So, if you are in Australia: You can start by adding your name to the Open Letter.
Or… if not in Australia: How about starting a similar campaign in your country?
On 25 May 2023, Robert Hinkley is coming to Geelong to give a presentation at the Geelong Library. The event has a $5 admission fee to cover the costs.
If you live near Geelong in Australia, come to listen, discuss, and hear the calls to action on Thursday 25 May 2023 at 5:00pm at Geelong Library – the Dome 5th floor. Entry: $5. Registration here
. . .
→ Listen to a longer podcast interview with Robert Hinkley, where he explains the idea in detail. (Starts at 15 minutes)
→ You can add your name to this Open Letter calling on the Australian Government to adopt The Code for Corporate Citizenship
Redesigning the corporation: giving it a conscience
Here is an interview with Robert Hinkley by Nico Heller of the Democracy School in Berlin regarding putting outside limits on acceptable corporate behaviour through the Code for Corporate Citizenship – and how this related to COP27 which at the time of the interview was taking place in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.
Important historical insight
So long as corporations don’t otherwise violate the law, they have total freedom to do whatever they want – even when it severely harms the public interest. It wasn’t always like this. In the 1800s, a company not only had to obey the law, it had to make sure it was not doing something that would harm the public interest or upset legislators.
→ Read Robert Hinkley’s fascinating dig into the history of where things went wrong.
“Consider how much better off we’d be today if 100 years ago strong governance cared about the environment as much as they cared about money during the Industrial Revolution. Our world would be healthier, cleaner, happier, and more peaceful. It could be that way for future generations…”
~ Christa Avampato, author
“It’s easier to imagine the fossil fuel industry and their enablers (banks, etc) doing a drinking game – taking a shot every time they hear “climate action” – than ever truly prioritizing people and planet over profits. We must end their grip on our needed transformation to have a chance.”
~ Rebecca Woodward, on Twitter
Big polluters call for action on emissions
amid plans for new fossil fuel projects
Some of Australia’s biggest polluters – including BHP, Rio Tinto and Woodside – say urgent action is needed from government, investors and business for Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with its goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C. But the statement appears at odds with the plans of some of the companies that have backed it. Woodside wants to open several large gas and oil fields in Australia and overseas.
→ The Guardian – 4 April 2023:
Industrial heavyweights call for urgent action on cutting Australia’s emissions
“In joint statement companies say they are ‘ready to seize opportunity’ of decarbonisation and call on others to join them.”
→ AAP / The West Australian – 15 March 2023:
Call for Woodside directors’ heads over climate change
“Institutional shareholders angry at Woodside Energy’s approach to climate change will take their fight to its board for the first time.”
→ The Age – 3 April 2023:
Radio silence replaces greenwashing claims
“Fossil fuel companies have not simply been lying to the public, they have been killing members of the public at an accelerating rate, and prosecutors should bring that crime to the public’s attention.”
~ Paper accepted in Harvard Environmental Law Review