A restorative approach to corporate harm

Published: Friday, March 8th, 2024


This is a blog by our Director, Lucy Jaffé.

 

“Our hope now is that nobody else will die.” – Samantha May, The Infected Blood Inquiry, 4 March 2022

 

When there are announcements about state and corporate compensation for the Windrush, Grenfell, Post Office and Infected Blood victims, I am shocked at the un-restorative nature of these responses. When I look at the needs of the people most affected with a Restorative Justice lens, I don’t see their needs at the heart of the solution. I don’t see a process whereby the institutions which caused the harm are held to account. 

True restoration cannot be defined by the harmer. So when the Government or corporations say sorry, is that enough? Have they listened carefully to the people who have been harmed? As former sub-postmaster, Tony Downey, said at the House of Commons Business and Trade Committee on 27th February 2024, “They admit that they have wronged, but they do not want to pay the compensation.” Tony needed action as well as words. Sorry is not enough.

I have heard moving individual stories and speakers talking about corporate and state harm on national radio and television, who clearly state what happened, how it makes them feel and what they would like to happen next. And yet the people who represent the institutions which caused the harm seem to have difficulty hearing exactly what they need. 

Samantha May of the Hepatitis C Trust was very clear about what needs to be done to address the harm caused by infected blood: “I truly hope that those who may have been at risk from blood transfusions or blood products all those years ago are identified swiftly and have all the care, information and support they need to be tested and treated as soon as possible before life-threatening conditions arise.” But is she being heard and is it quick enough to save lives?

In cases of corporate harm, where there are similarities between people affected, as May goes on to say, “each person has also had their very own distinct experience, affecting every part of their lives and that of their families, over many decades”.

A restorative approach in corporate harm cases needs to take into account the harm to the community, such as through compensation, and to do that quickly and painlessly; but it also requires individualised responses to each person’s situation. For example, to issue compensation before another victim dies, whilst in parallel expediting exonerating legislation. Using a restorative approach for both of these approaches would work well, but it requires acceptance of responsibility by the institution, a willingness to be held accountable by those most affected, and a commitment to putting things right. 

So how do we start to address corporate harm?

Ask the people most affected what they need and set up a restorative process of accountability. 

 

 

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