Conference: Corporate Accountability and Liability for Risks to the Living Environment

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On the 3rd and 4th of October 2024, the Utrecht Centre for Accountability and Liability Law organizes a conference on ‘Corporate Accountability and Liability for Risks to the Living Environment’. The conference will focus on the interaction between different areas of law that determine corporate responsibility and liability for pollution of the living environment. These include (European and international) environmental law, corporate law, contract law, international law, soft law, civil liability law and criminal law.

The conference is organized in the context of a book project led by prof. Elbert de Jong, prof. Michael Faure and prof. Josephine van Zeben. During the conference (renowned) experts from several domains will present their findings. Please see below for the programme and speakers. For registration and more information please use this link. The available spaces are limited. Registration is required.

Theme: pathways to corporate accountability and liability for environmental risks

Corporate activities can have severe impacts on the environment and public health. Think of the emissions of hazardous substances such as PFAS. In The Netherlands, one could think of the consequences of emissions by Chemours and Tata Steel. Similar examples can be found in other European countries and the United States.

Increasingly, regulators, civil society, legal practice and legal scholarship, ask the question how to adequately regulate corporate emissions and how to address the environmental and public health hazards corporate activities create. Hereby the focus is not only on strengthening traditional public risk regulation, but also on other instruments for regulating corporate behavior.

A classic idea is that top down command and control governmental risk regulation plays a primary role in regulating health and environmental risks. In an ideal world, there is a clear and adequate framework of standards on corporate responsibility for risks to the living environment, and enforcement of those standards also takes place. However, for several reasons public regulation might fail in adequately regulating corporate activities that pose health and environmental risks. There may be complexity and uncertainty about the risks, information asymmetries may exist between companies, the standard-setter and/or those at risk, regulation may be outdated, economic (and other societal) interests served by the polluting activities may be a barrier to (more) adequate and stringent regulation, and there may be a shortage of (financial) resources to take enforcement action at the side of public enforcement authorities.

Due to these perceived regulatory failures, attention has shifted to corporation’s autonomous responsibility in addressing risks to the living environment, as well as mechanisms for holding corporations accountable for these responsibilities. Various accountability mechanisms exist: corporate activities are governed by a transnational legal framework consisting of, among others, environmental (European and international) administrative law, corporate law, contract law, soft law, civil liability and criminal law. These systems offer different routes to hold corporations, and sometimes even directly their directors, accountable for the risks they pose to the living environment and the consequences thereof. All these areas of law deal in different ways with the challenges outlined above and have their strengths and weaknesses in regulating risks to the living environment. Recognizing these strengths and weaknesses and aligning these accountability mechanisms can, at least in theory, lead to better environmental and public health protection.

Speakers and (tentative) programme

Thursday, 3rd of October 2024, 09:30 – 18:00 (Venue: Quinton House, Utrecht)

  • Opening (prof. Michael Faure)
  • Corporate Environmental Accountability: Concepts and Discourses, (Daniel Bertram, EUI, Florence)
  • Theories on risk regulation and risk governance of corporate behavior (prof. Arden Rowel, Illinois College of Law & prof. Josephine van Zeben, EUI, Florence)
  • Even Angels Make Mistakes: Social Choice Theory, Computational Complexity, and defective Corporate Decision-Making vis-à-vis Corporate Environmental Liability (prof. Roy Partain, University Aberdeen)
  • Corporate Control of Information on Risks to the Living Environment (prof. Elbert de Jong, Utrecht University, UCALL & prof. Wendy Wagner, University of Texas School of Law)
  • Corporate environmental liability in the context of Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) and the CSDDD, (dr. Kleoniki Pouikli, Utrecht University)
  • Criminological perspectives on corporate environmental pollution (prof. Lieselot Bisschop & prof. Karin van Wingerde, Erasmus University Rotterdam)
  • Corporate criminal liability for environmental hazards (Eva Floris, prof. Francois Kristen, dr. Anne-Jetske Schaap, Utrecht University, UCALL)
  • Environmental Liability of Directors – looking beyond the fiduciary duty (dr. Tim Bleeker, VU Amsterdam)
  • Business and human rights approach to environmental pollution (dr. Anne Lafarre & dr. Bas Rombouts, Tilburg University)
  • The Elephant in the Room: Contract, tort and company law dimensions of supply chain liability as fragments of the reimagination of companies’ legal personhood (prof. Chantal Mak, University of Amsterdam)
  • General session

Friday, 4th of October 2024, 09:00 – 13:00 (Venue: Johanna Hudig Building, Utrecht)

  • Public interest litigation for the environment (prof. Luc Lavrysen, Ghent University, President of the Belgian Constitutional Court)
  • Administrative Enforcement of Corporate Duties of Care in Environmental Law (prof. Kars de Graaf & dr. Lolke Braaksma, University of Groningen)
  • The evolution of corporate accountability standards at the crossroads of international biodiversity law and human rights: progress and prospects , including for the ocean-climate nexus, (prof. Elisa Morgera, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow)
  • International law and corporate actors’ responsibilities for protecting the living environment’ (dr. Anneloes Kuiper, Utrecht University, UCALL)
  • General closing session.


For registration and more information please use this link.

Start date and time
End date and time
Quinton House, Nieuwe Gracht 60 (Thursday) en Johanna Hudiggebouw, Kromme Nieuwe Gracht 47e (Friday), Utrecht

For more information and to register go to the online registration form.