Taming business? A critical analysis of AGL’s decision to divest from coal seam gas

Haines F1, Bice S1, Einfeld C1

1University Of Melbourne

Criminological analyses of necessary responses to white collar crime are often framed in terms of the need for tougher legal controls and law enforcement. Yet, we know that business harms are often sanctioned by law and, even where they fall foul of the law, businesses can draw on significant resources to ensure a legal outcome that has the least impact on their profit making operations – even if significant harm continues. White collar crimes historically have been understood either as discrete events or pertaining to discrete domains (of worker safety, finance or pollution) but now, with the threat of climate change, the central inter-related problems associated with ‘business as usual’ come into play. Taming business, better aligning business practice with not only legal requirements but changing social expectations and looming environmental limits becomes the central criminological conundrum in the study of white collar crime. To answer this question requires us looking at how a combination of pressures on business conduct may be more effective than reliance on the law alone. This paper looks at one aspect of this challenge through empirical work on the coal seam gas industry. Coal seam gas exploration has developed rapidly and has been associated with endangering ground water and release of methane adding to the problem of climate change problems that have led to significant social protest. This paper analyses three separate sources of social control of business – legal controls, the market and social protest—in order to understand how this combination of pressures led to the decision by AGL in February 2016 to divest from coal seam gas. We draw on twitter data around social protests of AGL’s operations, alongside legal decisions and critical financial information to analyse the pressures that led to AGL’s decision to ’quit coal seam gas’. We then draw lessons from this case study concerning the broader challenges of ‘taming business’ in light of the significant environmental and social challenges we now face.

Biography

Fiona Haines is Professor of Criminology in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne and adjunct professor at the Regulatory Institutions Network at ANU. Her research, which encompasses work on industrial disasters, grievances and multinational enterprises centres on white collar and corporate crime, globalisation and regulation. Her recent books include The Paradox of Regulation: what regulation can achieve and what it cannot (Edward Elgar, 2011) and Regulatory Transformations: Rethinking Economy Society Interactions, Hart Publishing, 2015, co-edited with Bettina Lange and Dania Thomas.