Silencing the noise: asbestos liabilities, accounting and strategic bankruptcy
The legacy of the global exploitation of asbestos provides an illustrative case to examine corporate strategy in response to the significant financial risk presented by the long-tail liability. The James Hardie group was the dominant asbestos manufacturing concern in Australia and, confronted with the uncertainties of burgeoning long-tail tort claims, embarked on a radical corporate reorganization. At the centre of the reorganization was the creation of a business unit of limited potential to separate asbestos long-tail liabilities from the profitable operations of the corporate group and locate the risk in an alternate legal arena. The strategic recognition of accounting assets and liabilities to construct a 'bottom line' and shift organizational boundaries is explored using Delaney's theory of strategic bankruptcy. This interdisciplinary and critical sociological lens highlights the power of organizations to exploit the malleability of accounting concepts to pursue their strategic goals.