In the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, April 20, a motorcycle being driven by Henrix Bernardo with his friend Glenn Nacion Jr. was struck by a speeding Audi R8 sedan along McKinley Road. Bernardo died on the spot, while Nacion suffered grave injuries and was transported to the Ospital ng Makati, where he later had one of his legs amputated. The Audi, which police later said was carrying a plate from a different car, fled the scene of the accident into Dasmariñas Village, where the driver, president of Sunglass Hut Philippines Rajiv Ramesh Dargani, reportedly instructed the village security guards to block anyone attempting to follow him. According to some accounts, Dargani had been drinking heavily at a party at the Privé Luxury Club in Bonifacio Global City prior to the accident, which occurred when he attempted to overtake a slower-moving car along McKinley Road.
Despite there being a number of witnesses to what was a fairly obvious case of alcohol-induced recklessness leading to a fatal hit-and-run accident, and despite a fairly rapid response by Makati police, the outcome of the tragedy was depressingly typical of most involving someone entitled to a privileged definition of “justice” in this country. After initially promising police he would surrender to answer charges “at the proper time,” Dargani fled the country to Hong Kong to “participate in a religious discourse.” On April 24, unable to arrest Dargani under the “hot pursuit” provision and with the businessman apparently having no intention to make good on his promise to surrender, the Makati police filed charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, physical injuries and abandonment of one’s victim with the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office.
Nearly a month later, however, on May 21, Makati Assistant City Prosecutor Estafano de la Cruz issued an order “withdrawing” the charges, explaining that the families of the two victims, Henrix Bernardo and Glenn Nacion Jr., had filed affidavits of desistance after receiving compensation from Dargani. When Makati City Police Senior Supt. Manuel Lukban pointed out that the charges could not have been withdrawn because it was the police and not the families who had filed them, Makati Chief Prosecutor Feliciano Aspi hastily added the explanation that he had approved the order, because the case filed by the police was “weak”—a circumstance that experienced criminal attorneys have informed this writer should have actually resulted in the charges being dropped entirely rather than simply “withdrawn,” or returned to the police for correction and refiling.
The whole thing might have ended there, just another travesty of Philippine justice wherein some spoiled brat is able to avoid responsibility for even the most heinous transgression by throwing enough money at the victims’ families, and, one could certainly be forgiven for imagining, perhaps the responsible prosecutorial authorities as well. But the relationship of Sunglass Hut Philippines and its ultimate owner, the Luxottica Group of Italy, may very well mean the case will not go away as easily as Dargani and the Makati Prosecutor’s Office may like. Ironically, it was an incident half a continent away from the Philippines not long after the tragic accident involving Dargani that put the spotlight on the moral responsibility of Sunglass Hut’s parent company.
On April 24, the eight-story Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,127 people and injuring some 2,500 others nearly all of them workers in the various garment factories located within the building. International outrage over the poor working conditions and safety standards that led to the collapse put the liability and responsibility of well-known clothing labels that outsourced their work to the stricken factory under the microscope, with some companies, such as UK’s Primark, seeking to arrange compensation through Bangladeshi trade unions out of concern that they could be held partly responsible for the accident under English tort law.
While the circumstances of the Dhaka tragedy and the Dargani case are obviously greatly different, it is the particular conditions of the Code of Ethics and the Code of Conduct with which Luxottica Group binds its subsidiary and partner companies that raises a question about the corporate silence on the Dragani matter. All Luxottica Group brands—which includes nearly every sunglass brand imaginable, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, Prada, Revo, Ralph Lauren, Bvlgari and Chanel, eyewear retailers such as Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, LensCrafters and the optical departments in big-box retailers like Sears, Wal-Mart and Target—strictly adhere to Luxottica’s codes of ethics and conduct. The two codes largely govern the conduct of partner companies, suppliers, distributors and employees with respect to company-related activities, but with an interesting twist: The Code of Ethics has as its legal basis the Italian Legislative Decree 231/2001, which provides that “companies may be called to respond criminally [in the Italian courts]for certain crimes committed in its interest or to the benefit of its directors and employees.” [Emphasis added] The Code of Ethics then goes on to clarify that, “Accordingly, the Luxottica Group exercises the utmost diligence in verifying available information concerning commercial counterparties suppliers, partners and consultants with the aim of ascertaining their integrity and the legitimacy of their activity before forming business relationships with them.”
So far, however, there is no indication that Luxottica Group is actually enforcing its Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct with respect to its local partner, since neither Sunglass Hut nor the parent company has publicly expressed any concern about the Dargani matter, to say nothing of taking any corrective action. True, Dargani’s “accident” had nothing at all to do with his role as the chief executive officer of Sunglass Hut Philippines, but we might compare his case with another recent and far less tragic incident involving another corporate bigwig: Robert Blair Carabuena, a Phillip Morris executive who had the poor judgment to assault a traffic officer of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, was summarily sacked by the company, and that was even after he stood to face the charges against him, and offered a personal apology to the aggrieved officer and the MMDA.
The message was crystal-clear, and to be fair, it’s not one that most companies and managers with integrity need to hear repeated: The actions of a company’s associates, no matter what they are or when they occur, reflect on the company because customers do not want to have the impression that their money is being used to finance illegal, unethical, or ill-mannered behavior. The Luxottica Group should consider the message—if not their potential legal responsibility—they are sending by remaining mum on what by all appearances is a blatant disregard for Philippine law, fair justice and general civil behavior on the part of their local partner.