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Is a responsibility shared a responsibility halved?

The Deepwater Horizon disaster that polluted the Gulf of Mexico was all BP’s fault – wasn’t it? Well that is no doubt  just what is being expensively tested in the courts. How much should BP pay? For how much should subcontractors such as Transocean and Halliburton be responsible?

IIED has produced a new report on shared responsibility in the oil industry spelling out the ways in which supply chains should work together on social and environmental responsibility. And of course this is a problem that goes way beyond the oil industry. Increasingly extended supply chains are a general feature of globalisation.

The emphasis of the IIED report is on how companies and their supply chains can work together to avoid problems occurring in the first place, rather than on quantifying responsibility for the costs when the worst has happened. But the worst will happen from time to time. And you would have thought that having worked out how to share responsibilities in advance would not only reduce the chance of it happening, but also make more obvious how the cost of paying for it should be allocated.

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