Jarrod Gilbert: Time for a shake-up on corporate responsibility

The deaths of 29 men at Pike River may be fading from the memories of many New Zealanders, and that may be a great relief to those who ran the company. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The deaths of 29 men at Pike River may be fading from the memories of many New Zealanders, and that may be a great relief to those who ran the company. Photo / Mark Mitchell

• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions. He is an award-winning writer who specialises in research with practical applications.

Twenty-nine killed at Pike River Mine, 115 killed in the CTV building. When are tragedies that claim dozens of lives something more sinister, and are we doing enough to serve the interests of justice?

As earthquakes again rattle our nation, all people who work in office blocks have reason to think of the horrors that befell those who died at CTV. I have extra reason. On the night of the quake I was a firefighter working at the site. My small contribution included pulling three bodies from the rubble, one of them still clasping a takeaway coffee cup in her hand. I have no idea who she was but we can guess the grief of her family and friends.

At that time, the CTV collapse appeared to be an act of nature. It was only later we learned of terrible human failings.

That building was deemed safe after the initial quakes and reoccupied. The council worker who said so had no experience in carrying out earthquake damage assessments. He never even entered the building.

The earthquake royal commission found it was not code-compliant and should not have been approved by the council. The inquiry found that "sole responsibility" for the design was given to an inexperienced engineer named David Harding, who had never designed a building above two levels before, and was "working beyond his competence".

His supervisor, Alan Reay, was heavily criticised for failing to properly review the final plans, or make note of the fact that the building was not up to code.

Reay was a director of Alan Reay Consultants, which now trades under the name Engenium. Its website says: "Engenium is building on the strength of our people who have a strong history of innovation and design excellence."

No criminal prosecution has been brought over the CTV collapse, although police are still investigating.

Over on the West Coast at Pike River Mine another investigation has ground to a halt. And it echoes.

The ache on the justice system that is the question over the Bain family murders may have been avoided if not for the premature razing of the scene of the crime; the family home was burned to the ground at the request of Bain relatives. Nigel Hampton QC sees parallels in permanently blocking up the Pike River Mine; what he calls one of New Zealand's most significant crime scenes.

The deaths of 29 men at Pike River may be fading from the memories of many New Zealanders, and that may be a great relief to those who ran the company; the very people who may be held to account if the mine was accessed and a thorough criminal investigation allowed to occur.

Any chance of such an investigation will vanish with the sealing of that mine. The safety concerns known before the explosion, and those uncovered since, will disappear almost as if they never existed.

Company managers or directors and the like are not those we see as crooks. But if such people take lives through greed or negligence then they certainly are.

It is important we adjust our thinking.

If we do not view corporate malfeasance as a serious issue then our laws, investigative bodies, and courts will not see them as serious either.

If these two incidents - what Hampton calls possible mass homicides - aren't enough to challenge our perceptions of corporate rights and wrongs, then maybe the next one will?

After CTV and Pike River our leaders rejected calls to create an offence of corporate manslaughter. It was deemed unnecessary. I wonder if this sent the correct message. I hope these latest quakes bring some realities to Wellington so politicians take greater note.

- NZ Herald

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