Sustainability Chat with Nina Macpherson, Chairperson Ecocide Law Alliance
In our Sustainability Chat series, we speak with leaders and dreamers in the world of sustainability – picking their brains on what drives them, their experiences working in the field, plus all the best tricks of the trade.
If we are to reach the set international sustainability agreements, such as the Paris Agreement and the UN’s SDGs, society must respect and protect our ecosystems. Yet, human activities and business decisions that lead to the destruction of critical ecosystems and species at a spine-chilling rate continue to go by without any legal consequences – despite all the scientific warnings.
Many are questioning how long until the mass destruction of our planet, also referred to as ecocide, will turn into an international crime. That is why we were so excited when Nina, Chairperson at Ecocide Law Alliance, had time to have a sit-down with us to talk about her impressive working experience, the important work of Ecodice Law Alliance, and how businesses can get engaged. In addition to her position at Ecocide Law Alliance, Nina is also a member of the Board at Traton, Scania, Netel Group and Scandinavian Enviro Systems.
Let’s dive in!
You have a fascinating background, could you tell us more about your career?
Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say that. I am a lawyer and have worked in various legal fields over the years, starting off as a marine lawyer at one of Sweden’s main shipping companies, continuing with more general business law, and then ending up with Ericsson – the Swedish telecom supplier operating all over the world. At Ericsson, I had the opportunity to deal with matters such as the transition to euro (for our companies within the eurozone), the Sony Ericsson joint venture, and being the project leader of the 30b SEK new issue of shares. I have also been dealing with competition law matters which is particularly interesting in telecom where patent law and competition law come to a crunch when standardizing the new telecom generations. Corporate governance has rapidly developed since I joined Ericsson in the mid-90s. It has been a privilege to be part of that development and to be able to support the self-regulatory system which is now an important element of corporate governance in Sweden and elsewhere. In 2011, I joined the Ericsson Executive Team when I became the Chief Legal Officer and Secretary to the Board of Directors. At about the same time, I joined the Board of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and became a member of the Swedish Securities Council. I retired from Ericsson in 2018. I love meeting people and I have had friends in many parts of the world since my Ericsson time.
An important and rewarding part of my life, apart of course from my family, has been the possibility to make a tiny contribution to a better world. During my studies and several years thereafter I was part of the legal team at a safe house for raped and abused women and their children. During my latter Ericsson years, I was the ambassador for SDG 16 as well as chairing Ericsson’s efforts to make sure Ericsson employees were aware of the non-acceptance of child sexual abuse through our cooperation with NetClean (supplying software to detect digital content of child sexual abuse on corporate networks). Following my retirement, I have continued to support NetClean, joined company boards only if the company has a green agenda, and am now also dedicating time to support the addition of ecocide as an international crime in the Rome Statute.
“As a matter of fact, for most companies, climate change and the damage to our precious ecosystem pose real and tangible risks, but it also can be a business opportunity if you react fast and lead the change.”
Could you tell us more about your current position as chairperson at Ecocide Law Alliance and member of the Board at several companies?
Ecocide Law Alliance was recently founded and has as its clear focus to seek the support of the business society to establish a new crime in the Rome Statute, namely ecocide. As I have spent my entire business life within various businesses I know that many companies strive to conduct their business in an ethical and sustainable manner and I also know that the issues that companies embrace and actively support will have an impact on politicians. And it is only governments that can propose and vote for including ecocide in the Rome Statute.
I am a member of the board of four companies, Traton and Scania (truck and bus maker leading the shift to a sustainable transport system), Netel (specialists in critical infrastructure) and Scandinavian Enviro Systems (great technology for recovering raw material from end-of-life tires). I have an active dialogue with these companies about ecocide and you will see a great statement from the CEO of Enviro on the Ecocide Law Alliance website. The Foundation has ongoing dialogues with a large number of Swedish companies and we hope to see more and more companies taking a clear stand during the autumn. We also aim to reach and discuss the issue with companies in other parts of the world as soon as we can with our current limited resources.
Ecocide is a rising topic – what’s your view on why this subject is so important?
Standing up for ecocide law is an ethical choice. It shows a commitment to sustainable business that goes way beyond simply abiding by current regulations. Ecocide law is a powerful way to protect biodiversity and human rights.
I believe that the most important part of including the new crime in the Rome Statute is that it will change the general perception of the severity of these crimes – and that the mass damage of ecosystems is completely unacceptable by society.
Criminal sections of environmental laws are national laws only, and not all countries have strong environmental laws – nor the resources or willingness to prosecute violations. By making the mass damage of ecosystems an international crime there will be a tool to prosecute those who are in charge. This would change risk perception, stopping many potentially ecocidal activities from occurring.
Ecocide as a concept has been discussed since Olof Palme mentioned it about 50 years ago. With the rapidly rising awareness of the impact of climate change and the destruction of important biospheres around the world will have on the world we live in, the human rights aspects of this combined with the recently proposed very clear definition, the importance of the concept is now well understood by more and more people around the world.
There is growing support for national laws against Ecocide, yet, some countries are still lagging behind. Why do you think that is?
There may be many reasons for this, such as unclarity of what the crime might encompass or that other matters have been more important for the population/politicians in the short term. Others might be worried about the effect on their economy or important domestic business operations.
What I find disappointing is that Sweden, with its rather high environmental profile, is one of the countries lagging behind. I hope and trust that this is now changing as we have recently seen influential politicians expressing their support publicly.
Ecocide was a hot topic during Stockholm +50. Could you share some insights from the panel discussion you participated in?
I found it really encouraging to see representatives from different parts of society engaging in the discussion. I also thought it was interesting to see that companies, once the matter has been analyzed internally, are positive and supportive. As a matter of fact, for most companies, climate change and the damage to our precious ecosystem pose real and tangible risks, but it also can be a business opportunity if you react fast and lead the change. Making the ethical choice to support the inclusion of ecocide in the Rome Statute may also be a boost for your business, for instance by helping you attract and recruit the right talent. Increasingly, those who can pick and choose are opting to work for organizations driven by a purpose beyond profit.
How can ecocide become a more prioritized topic?
I believe it is important that business leaders realize that turning ecocide into international law is not just a theoretical discussion – it’s a way of contributing to a better world for coming generations by creating a level playing field for sustainable companies competing with other companies who, at the moment, act without care.
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