Centre for International Environmental Studies
14 November 2022

New CIES Visiting Fellow

 Interview with Junior Visiting Fellow Stefano Porfido at CIES

Stefano Porfido

You are currently a PhD Candidate at the Law Department at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, in Pisa, Italy. Can you tell us what your research topic is and how did you come to choose it?

My research topic pertains to the use of restorative justice for corporate environmental crimes. More in detail, my research aims at exploring the use of restorative justice as so to shape State’s punitive powertowards holistic responses for corporate environmental crime, consistently with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This enterprise entails a number of sub-research questions including what the conceptual meaning of corporate environmental crime is; what the limit of traditional criminal law is when addressing such systemic crimes; what the conceptual understanding of environmental victimhood is. During my research stay at the Graduate’s Centre for International Environmental Studies I focus on two fundamental aspects, namely whether the existing legal concept of “corporate sovereignty” could adequately translate the corporates’ responsibility for the perpetrated harm to the natural and the humane dimension; and whether restorative justice could lead to a reorganisation of the transaction, i.e. the corporate’s internal governance process, in a sustainable way through the internalisation of the transaction’s externalities within the governance process.

As for the choice of this topic, the environmental criminal law sector has always triggered my interest. However, I am aware about the limits of criminal law in tackling the nastiest forms of environmental degradations, particularly those resulting from systemic forms of corporate criminality. During my LL.M in Human Rights at the University of Essex I got the possibility to better understand the potentialities of restorative justice approaches to crime. I therefore got curious about its implementation for systemic environmental crimes. However, at the time when I started my studies on this subject in 2018, the relevant literature was still at its dawn. Hence, the idea to contribute to it by dedicating my research to this promising field.

Can you describe your thesis questions and methodology?

My main research question revolves around the possibility to develop holistic responses to corporate environmental crime within a restorative justice approach. This objective refers to the possibility to enforce a response to crime that enables more than the mere punishment of the offender for past actions. It rather aims at managing the harmful crime’s consequences through the implementation of systemic-oriented remedies consistently with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, the ultimate end of my project is that of exploring the potentiality stemming from the use of restorative justice not only for enforcing victim-tailored remedies, but also for provoking a change in the corporate way of doing business. To this end the legal category of property and the related concept of corporate sovereignty are central tenets of my research, insofar as they allow the corporate to exercise a power of control over natural resources. I claim that for a holistic solution to corporate environmental crime to be, said traditional notion of property has to be challenged. I then argue that restorative justice could reach this goal by promoting a model of “equitable accountability”.

Methodologically, I use a theoretical approach to the concept of restorative justice to showcase what I believe to be some not yet explored possibilities of this important instrument. And, of course, I compare these possibilities to what has been done in a few paradigmatic cases of environmental prosecution. This comparison allows me to explore how and why the solutions presented could have been better in terms of holistic environmental protection, and how to improve the solution of current and future cases. In short, I combine a theoretical approach with a case-oriented mindset.

How do you expect your experience at CIES will contribute to it?

When I decided to research on sustainable governance, on corporate sovereignty and on the issues related with a traditional conception of property vis-à-vis the ecological challenges our times face, I had no doubts that the Graduate Institute’s CIES would have been the best solutions for achieving my goals, in terms of both research community, facilities and opportunities. I am particularly eager to challenge myself through critical and engaging talks not only with my supervisor but also with the other researchers from different backgrounds. I am firmly convinced that the cultural richness of the Centre would add value to my understanding of such complex topics and to the overall coherence of my research. The extensive library assets, the opportunity to discuss my research in public and the presence of a truly supportive team are further elements that I am sure will contribute to the best of my experience.