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The U.K. Parliament is debating a new corporate manslaughter bill that, if approved, would make it easier to criminally prosecute companies in England, Wales and Scotland whose gross negligence leads to death. There may be serious implications for travel policies, practices and decisions.
Frustrated by their inability to use existing laws to prosecute anyone in several deadly rail, ferry and other disasters, the Home Office last year proposed an overhaul of existing laws after more than a decade of debate. Since 1992, prosecutors have filed 34 cases for work-related manslaughter, but convicted just six, small organizations. Six directors, six business owners and four employees have served jail time for these convictions.
Under review by a standing committee through October, the bill seeks to broaden the definition of a manager to "not only those at boardroom level, but others designated as senior managers," according to a research report on the bill issued this month by the House of Commons Research Library. Instead of individual liability and jail time, the bill calls for punishment to the corporation of unlimited fines and remedial actions.
Within corporate travel circles, the subject is "not causing ripples," possibly because the bill is still subject to amendment, noted Rik Kumar, BCD Travel marketing manager for the U.K.
"In general, corporate manslaughter has moved corporations to focus on the duty of care of their staff, with traveling staff in particular being an issue," said Institute of Travel Management executive director Paul Tilstone. "Whilst the bill does not allow prosecution of a U.K. company by foreigners, this is where it really matters to travel managers."
The duty of careand corporate manslaughter topics are prompting some corporations to look at the impact of self-drive car usage for U.K. company trips, Tilstone said. Companies are reviewing whether they should be mandating car usage from fleet or car hire instead of asking employees to use their own vehicles.
ITM is advising members that "corporate manslaughter is an issue they should deal with through policy and servicing" and to learn of their responsibilities in providing "duty of care, security, personal car usage, etc.," Tilstone said.
According to consultant Ian Flint, "I think you're finding a laid-back response because most companies that look after travelers as they do today are already making sure their travelers are safe and sound." Following the disasters of 11 Sep 2001 in the United States and the London bombings on 7 July 2005, most companies already have safety plans in place. When warnings are issued for travel to certain countries, companies today are advising travelers, added Flint, head of HRG's global consulting practice.
"An organization will have committed the new offense if it owes a duty of care to another person in certain circumstances and the way in which the organization's activities have been managed or organized by its senior managers amounts to a gross breach of that duty; and this breach has caused the person's death," according to a House of Commons report.
If enacted, the law would not apply to deaths that occur outside of Britain, even if the management actions, or lack thereof, occurred in Britain, noted the Centre for Corporate Accountability, which recommended an amendment to change that.
Such critics are disappointed by the bill. "We are very concerned that after 12 years of debate, the government has brought forward a bill that may well not result in increased accountability of large organizations," according to the Centre for Corporate Accountability. "This is particularly because of the 'senior manager' test. Unless this aspect of the bill is significantly amended so that the offenses can be triggered by failures wider than those carried out by an organization's senior managers (as currently defined) we fear that this bill may reproduce some of the key problems of existing law in this area, and thus will not succeed in achieving very much."
House of Commons research estimated the potential impact of the bill to corporations, in legal advice and training, at about £ 12 million ($22.4 million). It projected that prosecutors could file 10 to 13 additional cases of corporate manslaughter a year if the bill were approved.
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