Should Halliburton’s Tim Probert be held personally liable for the Gulf Oil Spill?

As President of Halliburton's Global Business Lines and its senior Environment, Health, & Safety Officer, Tim Probert has overall responsibility for the company's safe, environmentally conscious...
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As President of Halliburton’s Global Business Lines and its senior Environment, Health, & Safety Officer, Tim Probert has overall responsibility for the company’s safe, environmentally conscious operations. When things go so far off the rails, as they did in the Gulf of Mexico, should people be able to sue him as an individual? Should BP’s Corporate Responsibility officials? How about Transocean’s?

Notice I didn’t ask, “can they be held” liable. I asked, “should they be.” Right now, they can’t be held personally accountable. But if Corporate Responsibility aspires to the same level of professionalism of say the medical, legal, or accounting professions, at what point do professionals take on positive obligations?

If an attorney knows his client is going to lie on the stand he has an obligation as an officer of the court to stop him or report it. Attorneys that don’t get disbarred and/or go to jail. If an accountant knows her company is falsifying financial information she has an
obligation to report it. Why not CR professionals?

If Mr. Probert or his counter-parts at BP or Transocean knew their companies were operating substandard environmental, health, and safety procedures, did they have an ethical or professional obligation to do something about it?

In my Forbes blog, I said, “you can’t comply your way to greatness.” Right now, Mr. Probert and his colleagues are off the hook if (and that’s still a big IF) their companies were compliant. But compliancy is not responsibility. Responsible companies don’t just do the minimum required by law or regulation. They hold themselves to a higher standard. Maybe Mr. Probert and his colleagues shouldn’t be held criminally or civilly liable — unless of course they broke the law. But perhaps CR as a profession needs options — self-regulating options — similar to debarment that we could deploy in cases like this.

The Corporate Responsibility Officers Association’s Professional Development Committee has put forth an ethics code. Does it go far enough?

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BP oil spill, corporate responsibility

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