Research Handbook on International Environmental Law
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Research Handbook on International Environmental Law

Edited by Malgosia Fitzmaurice, David M. Ong and Panos Merkouris

This wide-ranging and comprehensive Handbook examines recent developments in international environmental law (IEL) and the crossover effects of this expansion on other areas of international law, such as trade law and the law of the sea.
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Chapter 17: Corporate Liability for Environmental Harm

Amanda Perry-Kessaris


* Amanda Perry-Kessaris Introduction This chapter explores issues of special relevance to corporate liability for environmental harm. The term environmental harm is employed in a broad sense, including damage to humans, animals, plant life, water, soil and so on. Where relevant, a distinction will be drawn between liability for harm to the environment, and liability for damage to human interests which result from harm to the environment. The first half of the chapter explores some essential conflicts between the legal structure of corporations, and the desire of regulators and victims seeking to hold them liable for their environmental harm. The corporate form is a construct of national legal systems. The specific structure and operation of corporations varies globally, but the basic components are legal personality, limited liability, transferable shares, and management by a board and ownership by investors (Kraakman et al., 2004: 1, 5–15). Of these, it is a corporation’s legal personality and limited liability which are of particular relevance to the topic of liability for environmental harm. The former ensures that corporations enjoy many of the same rights as human beings, and some of the responsibilities, but no allowance is made for the fact that they have no soul. The latter affords corporations with substantial opportunities to restrict and even avoid liability for their environmental harm. The second half of this chapter explores what progress has been made at the international level towards ensuring that corporations are liable for their environmental harm. Corporations, like other non-state actors, have a...

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