Corporate lawyer’s 11-word code that could change the world

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The Climate Revolution podcast episode 4: ‘The Code

Robert Hinkley’s idea about adopting a Code for Corporate Citizenship is not difficult or complicated at all. It’s just 11 words that need to be added to Section 181 of the Corporate Law.

Instead of just talking about directors serving the company’s best interest, our lawmakers need to add this phrase: “But not at the expense of severe harm to the environment.”

According to Hinkley, that would make a transformational difference in our society – and this is what he explains in the podcast episode.

But what will it take to convince Australia’s lawmakers in the Federal Parliament – and lawmakers all over the world – that this is something they need to do now?


The Code is a new idea to fight climate change and eliminate other corporate abuses of the public interest. Most environmental organisations don’t realise it, but they and other activists are fighting a problem with a common source. The source isn’t the specific factories or vehicles emitting greenhouse gases or even the gases themselves. It is a defect in the corporate law that keeps corporate directors from making the emissions stop.  This defect wasn’t always there, and it doesn’t have to be in the future. The Code will eliminate the defect and impose on company directors a duty to protect the environment when their company is discovered to be causing it severe harm. All environmental organisations, political organisations, and other groups concerned about climate change should work together to support its adoption.”
~ Robert Hinkley

Robert C. Hinkley is an accomplished US corporate attorney and a dual Australian-American citizen. He has over 20 years’ experience advising large companies and investment banks in US securities offerings. From 1989-2001 he built and managed Skadden Arps’ US legal practice in Australia.

He is the author of the book ‘Time to Change Corporations: Closing the Citizenship Gap’ (2011) in which he introduces the Code for Corporate Citizenship, an amendment to the duty of directors in the corporate law, designed to make corporations better citizens.

In 2009, he led the investigation at the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission which first identified the massive fraud in the residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market that precipitated the global financial crisis of 2008. From 2012-2020, he was a key advisor to the working group established by the US Department of Justice to investigate illegal behavior in the RMBS market. These investigations collectively recovered settlements totalling more than US$65 billion.

He is a graduate of both Fordham University College of Business Administration (BS Finance) and Fordham Law School (JD).

→ Robert Hinkley publishes a blog on the Code for Corporate Citizenship which can be found at:

→ Call on the Australian Government to add 11 words to Section 181 of Corporate Law: #SupportTheCode

“In what’s been labelled an argument for the “economic interest of the company,” Australia’s top-selling car maker, Toyota, is claiming that a rapid transition towards electric vehicles does not align with market truth and market reality.” 
~ Daily Mail


“This looks good and I think these campaigns are definitely a good part of political campaigning to point out the big problem of, why is destructive business activity allowed? I think this would be a step forward in reforming corporate law, but that ultimately reform needs to go further.

On my part, I think that any business should be positive for all stakeholders. In terms of external duties, this could include two types of duty: a ‘do no harm’ duty and a ‘net positive’ duty. These would apply to (i) environmental harm, (ii) local communities and the society(ies) as a whole, and (iii) employees.

As you’ll spot, the ‘The Code’ campaign is only one part of that matrix of stakeholder obligations.

Yet only changing external obligations would constrain things. Ultimately I think the reform should also happen internally. Instead of a for-profit company seeking to maximise profits within those constraints, how about an eco-democratic approach to corporations where shareholders are only one part of the governance structure (eg Board of Directors)? What if the board was 1/4 employees, 1/4 wider society representatives, 1/4 non-human nature, and 1/4 shareholders? That way, business decisions would actually be representing all stakeholders and (hopefully) have outcomes which are positive in every regard.

Liberal democracy only extends democratic representation to a “public domain” which is falsely conceptually separated from “private domain”. I think we need to democratise the economic sphere too.

So, The Code reform is positive for sure, but one step towards the larger reform that is needed.”
~ Alex May

Alex May is a legal theorist thinking about transforming our legal systems towards a just and ecological society. Inspired by Social Ecology, he calls his approach ‘Interconnected Law’ (an example of his writing: Interconnected Law: a paradigm shift in legal thinking). He is currently in the MPhil/PhD programme at Birkbeck, University of London, and a researcher on Rights of Nature with Lawyers for Nature.

The Climate Revolution podcast series

We need nothing less than a climate revolution, and that revolution begins in your head.
Enter our podcast series The Climate Revolution.

This is the fourth of a series of episodes about the climate revolution, where we introduce the concept of ‘The Climate Grail’.

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Podcast content – in order of appearance

00:03 Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General: “We are rapidly reaching the point of no return for the planet”
00:25 Movie clip: Marvel, Thor: Kaorg speaks to Thor about revolution
01:17 9News reporting on Antonio Guterres’ call for governments to declare a climate emergency
01:50 Robert Hinkley speaks briefly about The Code (Continues at 2:26)
02:22 BBC World Service during Second World War: “This is London calling”
03:58 ABC News on 20 March 2023: “A million fish dead”
04:01 ABC News: “Harrowing tales of survival emerge in Mississippi following tornado” (also at 06:26)
04:11 ABC News report from flooding in Burketown 12 March 2023 (also at 06:31)
06:35 ABC News: Bushfire victim statement: “I have lost everything”
06:38 ABC News: Report from extreme weather event in New Zealand: “Multibillion-dollar price tag”
06:48 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres interview in ABC: “We will be doomed”
07:05 ABC News: Report from extreme weather event in New Zealand: “A state of emergency has been declared in New Zealand after cyclone Gabrielle…”
07:09 Sir David Attenborough: “We will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security”
07:15 United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon in 2011: “We need a revolution. Revolutionary thinking. Revolutionary action.”
08:09 Movie clip: Marvel, The Avengers: “How bad is it? That’s the problem, sir: we don’t know”
08:24 ABC Lab: “We are going the wrong way”
08:26 7News Sydney: New South Wales Rural Fire Service firefighter: “You are killing us. You are killing Australia”
09:52 Movie clip: Marvel, The Avengers: “And the humans, what can they do but burn?”
10:15 Movie clip: Monthy Python and the Holy Grail: “What is your quest? I seek the grail!”
12:22 ABC Business Report on 21 March 2023: “The best performers today were coal miners lead by New Hope – its half year profit more than doubled”
12:36 Movie clip: Monthy Python and the Holy Grail: “I have seen the grail! I have seen it! (But there is one small problem)” (also at 59:50)
14:38 Movie clip: The 100, s1 e5 at 26:20: “This will cause a riot! Good. Maybe we need one.”
14:41 Movie clip: The 100, s2 e8 at 8:20: Abby: “The only way we are going to make it through this is if we trust each other”
15:24 Interview with Robert Hinkley begins – about The Code
46:11 David Attenborough, excerpt from BBC’s ‘Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World’“There just could be a change in moral attitude from people world-wide, politicians world-wide, to see that self-interest is for the past, common interest is for the future.”
48:44 Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General: “We are rapidly reaching a point of no return for the planet”
40:47 Movie clip: Marvel, Guardians Of The Universe: “I have a plan”
55:08 Movie clip: 1960 solar energy car: “The 1912 Baker was an electric Braun and noiseless. This is the world’s first solar car powered by a 10,000-cell panel on the roof”
59:54 “All revolutions seem impossible until they are inevitable.”

00:02 Alex Aidt: Icecream (also at 00:43, 01:18, 38:34, 58:13)
00:52 Wayne Jones: A Quiet Thought
01:25 Unicorn Heads: Wolf Moon
01:54 Coast: Anno Domini Beats
01:47 Monthy Python and the Holy Grail – fanfare (also at 49:02 and 59:50)
02:22 Twin Musicom: A Dream Within a Dream (also at 06:24, 11:49, 36:13)
02:36 Serge Pavkin: Dawn
04:38 Wayne Jones: Connection (also at 07:30, 14:46, 47:33)
09:10 Density & Time: Ether-Real (also at 58:54)
10:24 Wayne Jones: Resolution
36:25 Baba Brinkman: Makin’ Waves
46:08 Unicorn Heads: Dreaming in 432Hz
A big thank you to the musicians for allowing us to use this music in the podcast.

Listening tip
If you think an hour-long podcast is too long for you, we recommend you think about it diffently. The overall idea with us doing these long podcasts (we’ve done 400 of them by now, and they are all one hour long) is that our listeners listen to them for instance when they are in transport – sitting in a car or train – and press the pause button in the podcast player when they reach their destination. And then press play and listen onwards next time they are back in transport. In other words, cut it up in smaller bits suitable to you. You, not we, decide where to make the breaks yourself. 

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Related readings and links

An executive survey from PwC shows that just half of CEOs think of climate change as a risk to their business, which goes a long way to explain why some companies aren’t doing much to mitigate those risks. Of course, there is no business on a burning planet, and a stable economy needs a stable climate.

Australian Greenpeace CEO David Ritter has penned a brilliant piece for CEO Magazine on why business leaders need to think big for the climate – and reap the benefits that come with it. It includes a solid case study on ALDI’s switch to renewable energy. “There are huge corporate risks in greenwashing; but real climate action can be reputational gold,” David says.

“Send this on to your CEO,” suggests WorkforClimate in their weekly newsletter.

→ Marketforces – 23 August 2023:
Just half of CEOs see climate change as a risk to their business
“Just half of CEOs think of climate change as a risk to their business and just 19% think of it as a serious risk, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of business executives. That figure’s actually down from 23% last year.”

→ Work for Climate – 22 November 2022:
Kirstin Hunter: Does climate activism have a place in the corporate world?
“Should businesses and brands lend their voice to climate activism? WorkforClimate Ambassador Kirstin Hunter believes they have a duty to speak up.”

→ CEO Magazine – 17 August 2023:
It’s time for leaders to think big for the climate
“When it comes to climate action, it’s time to stop sweating the small stuff because there’s a huge upside in thinking big.”

A roadmap for companies to drive the fastest economic transition of the century

“Whether you’re a CEO, board member, manager or employee who wants to prepare for this transformation – and help drive it – ERI’s Business Playbook provides the guidelines to achieve this. Focusing on simplicity and speed, it contains solid guidelines for setting climate targets and strategies, planning, taking action and disclosing results.”

Previous episodes

Episode 2: Interview with Nathan Havay

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