Saying sorry can be a good business decision

By Guy Corbet

A poorly handled first response makes a crisis even worse

Guy Corbet

The Apology Clause campaign has been set up to make it easier for businesses to behave with compassion when things go wrong, and to help victims have better recoveries. 

That is because too often, when it feels like a business should say sorry, it does not.  This may be to a customer who has been let down, or someone who might have had a right to expect better than they received.

The campaign has been set up to raise awareness of the current law, which allows for apologies.  In other words, businesses and their advisors should feel more comfortable doing the right thing when the occasion calls for it.

We also want to support this by helping clarify the meaning of the existing apology clause in the Compensation Act 2006, whether through case law or new legislation.

Apologies help all involved

The media is full of tragic stories in which someone who has suffered terribly is left to say that all they wanted was an apology, and they did not get it.

Sometimes under guidance from legal advisors, or insurers, the businesses say and do nothing.  Or they simply roll out a convoluted “non-apology” (I am sorry if you feel that way…).

Faizah Shaheen was detained by Thomson Airlines for reading a book about Syrian art. The airline said: “we’re really sorry if Ms Shaheen remains unhappy with how she feels she was treated”. She had read a book.

She tried to sue for a proper apology, and the case ended up in the media, doing no good for Thomson Airlines’ reputation.  A simple apology could have spared them the time, cost and damage, and not ruined Faizah’s lasting memories of her honeymoon.

These situations need not happen.  The law supports apologies.

The Compensation Act 2006 says “an apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty”.

Yet too often businesses put their fear of legal ramifications over what they see as their moral obligations.

That refusal to do the right thing can have serious and lasting impact on victims.  A clear apology can lift the burden that victims very often carry for a long time after a trauma.  It can enable them to move on.  To stop blaming themselves.  To stop re-living the most agonising moment.  To rebuild.

Apologies make business sense

Not feeling able to apologise doesn’t add up for businesses either.  Handling issues well at the outset can prevent them from becoming crises.

A well-handled apology can avoid the costs and risks of going to court.  Even in court, a good apology can reduce settlement costs.  Not to mention the cost to a business’s reputation.

In Canada, a class action against Maple Leaf foods which set out looking for $100 million settled for an awful lot less.  The class was so impressed with the way Maple Leaf had apologised for its role at the heart of a fatal listeria outbreak, and how it set about improving industry standards.

Maple Leaf was able to do this because Canada has an apology clause which is sufficiently well established for its CEO to say the “two sets of advisors he didn’t listen to were the lawyers and the accountants”. It saved the business.

Focusing on avoiding any possible legal ramifications can be at the expense of doing the right thing. And doing the right thing can prevent legal action, reducing risk and saving money.

Apology Clause campaigns to put “sorry” on the map

That is why we set up the Apology Clause campaign.

“Sorry” really does make a difference to victims, as it can for the reputations and financials of businesses caught in the eye of the storm.  While it is easy to see why lawyers’ first instinct is to be extremely cautious, there are times when embracing the apology clause would serve their clients better.

To find out more about the campaign, and how to support it, please visit the site:


Guy Corbet is an associate at Fourteen Forty and a co-founder of the Apology Clause campaign ( and @ApologyClause). 


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