New ecocide Bill ‘should not punish staff’

The Scottish Parliament and Government can provide leadership

16 Feb 2024| News

Academics have warned that plans to make ecocide an offence in Scotland must avoid “the unintended consequence of punishing employees” instead of those responsible for wrecking the environment.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon has held a public consultation on her proposed ecocide legislation that if passed by Holyrood, would threaten those committing ecocide, including companies, with time in prison or hefty penalties.

Under the proposed Member’s Bill, big polluters could see 10% of their turnover seized while climate criminals could face up to 20 years in prison.

Ms Lennon’s consultation, which closed last week, received thousands of responses from organisations and individual people.

A response on behalf of a coalition of organisations, led by academic experts, has backed the proposals but called for specific powers to employees and communities to be embedded in the legislation.

The submission from the Centre for Climate Crime and Climate Justice, We Own It, the Scottish Hazards Campaign, the UK Hazards Campaign, the Institute of Employment Rights, and Violation Tracker has backed the principles of the proposed law.

But the evidence, led by Professor David Whyte from Queen Mary, University of University along with Dr Robert Knox and Eleanor Godwin from the University of Liverpool, Professor Andrew Watterson from Stirling University, Jodie Bettis from the Open University and Dr Ignasi Bernat from the University of Barcelona, has cautioned that the plans “must create a credible threat to offenders”.

The document also calls for measures to “rebuild our capacity to take action against those that pollute Scotland” and “take the lead in international initiatives”.

It adds: “This opportunity should not be wasted on reforms that present no threat to the vested interests that stand in the way of this necessary transition.

“The Scottish Parliament and government can provide leadership on climate action by introducing measures that give meaningful powers to prosecutors and mobilises the social power of workers and communities.”

The organisations have appealed that the legislation “not be restrictively narrow”.

They have also called for Ms Lennon’s proposed law to “capture offending by both corporations and individuals”, and “not allow senior executives to pass criminal responsibility down the corporate chain”.

The evidence warns that “any new offence of ecocide should incorporate a series of mechanisms that enable workers and communities to take an active role in preventing and responding to ecocidal behaviour”. It points to “a new power of reporting” for union officials to allow “workers and their representatives to report ecocide and to request an investigation by the enforcing authorities”, as well as similar power for communities.

The organisations have suggested that the new law “could explicitly include the possibility for private prosecutions for ecocide offences”.

Monica Lennon said:

“It’s brilliant that a diverse range of people and organisations are positive about the potential of ecocide law to make society greener, healthier and fairer.

I welcome the expert views of Professor David Whyte and organisations with a strong track record of standing up for workers and public safety. Environmental justice and social justice are equally important and ecocide law can contribute to building a just transition for workers and communities”

This article was first published in The Herald.