Academic journal article Capital & Class

Rational Corporation Meets Disciplined Worker: The (Re)production of Class Subjects in Corporate Crime Law Reform

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Rational Corporation Meets Disciplined Worker: The (Re)production of Class Subjects in Corporate Crime Law Reform

Article excerpt

Introduction

The seemingly endless list of serious crimes and human rights abuses by corporations around the world in recent decades has generated considerable discussion and debate about how best to regulate and control increasingly multinational/transnational corporations. Whilst the dominant academic and policy focus has centred on cooperative and/ or voluntary initiatives by corporations to operate ethically and responsibly (for example, see Hawkins 1987, 2002; Hutter 1988; Ruggie 2011), there is also a significant body of literature that contemplates more formal rules and laws in response to corporate offending (Bittle & Snider 2013; Glasbeek 2002; Pearce & Tombs 1998; Tombs & Whyte 2007). This paper addresses the latter issue, examining recent efforts to criminalise corporations that seriously injure and/or kill workers, and/or members of the public. It interrogates the limits of using the law to address abuses of corporate power and protect workers' safety, focusing on the ways in which struggles to enact and enforce corporate criminal liability legislation challenge and/or reinforce corporate capitalism. In so doing, it contemplates whether demands to discipline corporations through law, particularly by labour/unions (Glasbeek 2002, 2013), (1) misrecognise (Althusser 2001 [1971]) the problems of workplace safety--problems that demand broader strategies that challenge the capitalist mode of production.

In Canada, the issue of corporate criminal liability came to the fore following the death of twenty-six miners at the Westray mine in Pictou County, Nova Scotia in 1992, a disaster caused by dangerous and illegal working conditions. The ensuing public inquiry, which characterised the tragedy as 'foreseeable and preventable', along with outrage from the surviving workers, victims' families and the labour movement over the fact that nobody was held accountable for what happened at Westray, produced demands for new laws to get tough on corporate killers (Bittle 2012; Glasbeek & Tucker 1993). The United Steelworkers union, certified to represent the Westray workers shortly after the disaster, (2) was instrumental in this regard, tirelessly lobbying the federal government for more than a decade to enact corporate criminal liability legislation (Bittle 2012). In 2004, after considerable political controversy, discussion and debate, the federal government introduced Bill C-45, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Criminal Liability of Organizations), creating a legal duty for 'all persons directing work to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of workers and the public', and attributing criminal liability to an 'organisation' if a senior officer knew or ought to have known about the offence. (3)

Despite official rhetoric that Bill C-45, commonly referred to as the Westray Bill, would end the lenient treatment of corporate criminals, and regardless of the fact that roughly 1,000 workers still die each year in Canada as a result of work-related incidents or illness (Sandborn 2013), to date there have only been a handful of Westray Bill charges, and even fewer convictions (Bittle 2013) (4) What is more, none of the cases thus far exemplify what those who lobbied for the Westray Bill had in mind; none of them, that is, hold senior executives and board members to account, and none has targeted large and complex corporations. This situation has prompted renewed calls, particularly within the union/labour movement (the Steelworkers again being prominent), for the federal and provincial/territorial governments to take the necessary steps to ensure the law's enforcement. Unfortunately, there appears to be little political appetite to heed this advice, although pressures to act continue in the wake of two recent high-profile cases: a controversial decision by the Crown in British Columbia in January 2014 not to lay criminal charges against Babine Forest Products for its role in the death of two workers and injuries to 19 others, following an explosion at a sawmill plant in Burns Lake, BC; and the equally controversial actions following the Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 residents in July 2013, after an unmanned and runaway train carrying crude oil derailed in the town's centre, triggering a massive and devastating explosion. …

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