In cases like the BP Oil Spill should Corporate Responsibility Officers be held liable?

Should Tim Probert, President of Halliburton's Global Business Lines and the company's senior Environment, Health, & Safety Officer, be held liable for the company's role in the BP Oil Spill?  Should BP's Corporate Responsibility officials?  Transocean's?

Notice I didn't ask, "can they be held" liable.  I asked, "should they be."  Right now, they most likely cannot 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 start to 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?

Earlier in the week, 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 as a profession we need options -- self-regulating options -- similar to debarment that we could deploy in cases like this.

The CROA's Professional Development Committee has put forth an ethics code.  Does it go far enough?

Share your perspective.

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