U.K. nationals: PhD: Holding Corporations Criminally Accountable: Strengthening Protection of the Environment

 (via FindAPhD)
Northumbria University
Newcastle, United Kingdom
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
University/Academia/Research/Think tank
Experience Level: 
Not Specified
Degree Required: 
Bachelor's (Or Equivalent)


Please note: this job post has expired! To the best of our knowledge, this job is no longer available and this page remains here for archival purposes only.

About the Project

Project Rationale and Description

This project will explore the link between corporate responsibility and environmental crimes, with a potential focus on international criminal law. We have now entered a new geological era: the Anthropocene (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000). The impact that human society is having on the planet can no longer be ignored, including: air and water pollution; deforestation; depletion of ecosystems; and climate change (Prieur 2020). The links between corporations and environmental harm are continuously emerging, with research showing 100 of the active fossil fuel producer corporations are linked to 71% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 (Carbon Disclosure Project 2017). Particularly egregious corporate behaviour can, and arguably should, be viewed as criminal.

Criminal law can be used as a means of deterrence and moral censure, and also sends a societal message that certain corporate behaviour is unacceptable. The early 21st century has been characterised by a new acceptance that corporations can be criminally culpable (Almond, 2013). At a national level, countries like the UK, have introduced new corporate offences such as corporate manslaughter and bribery. Despite this, there are significant challenges to utilising criminal law as an instrument of protection for the natural world.  

Environmental crimes committed by large corporations are largely invisible and ‘remain hidden’ due to the power of corporations and associated power structures keeping environmental harm from being criminalised (Davies, Francis and Wyatt 2014). Further, transnational corporations often escape or mitigate negative press concerning the harm they cause, by using ‘greenwashing’ techniques which make them seem environmentally responsible (Berder 1997; White 2011; Davies, Herandez and Wyatt 2019). There is scope to explore new ways of holding corporations criminally accountable. Some argue for the introduction of an international crime of Ecocide, and Polly Higgins established Stop Ecocide who work towards establishing Ecocide as an international crime, which the supervisory team have links with. Campaigners, including Greta Thunberg, believe the crime should come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which can currently prosecute just four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. Bernaz (2017) explores the link between corporate responsibility, environmental protection and international human rights violations, arguing this could amount to international crimes, with a risk of prosecution through the ICC. This could be a mechanism in creating an international crime of Ecocide, but the jurisdiction the ICC could have over this is questionable, and further research is needed (Pereira 2020).

Applicants are encouraged to submit proposals with innovative methodologies and approaches investigating how criminal law can be developed, at an international and possibly national level, to be instrumental in reducing the harm caused by corporations in the Anthropocene era. It is anticipated that applicants will demonstrate an understanding of existing mechanisms of corporate criminal liability and their limitations. Any specific focuses on this project, such as looking at a potential crime of Ecocide or creating legislation from an Earth Jurisprudence perspective, are of a particular interest and welcomed. We envisage this project will foster international perspectives and/or comparative elements. 

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see


Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF21/BL/LAW/ROPER) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 29 January 2021

Start Date: 1 October 2021

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Victoria Roper ()

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home students and includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2020/21, this is £15,285 pa) and full tuition fees.
Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
• have settled status, or
• have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
• have indefinite leave to remain or enter.
If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student.