Corporate Criminality and Response

In defining precisely what is meant by corporate crime, it is essential to always bear in mind the size of the organizations in question. Corporations typically employ at least many thousands of people, and the unpleasant reality is that, in any sampling of thousands of people, it is likely that there will be those guilty of something illegal. "A large firm that is consistently compliant with all legal requirements is little more likely than a crime-free city". Add to this incidents of probable incompetence and poor judgment, and the scenario becomes even more daunting.

When a corporation goes wrong, it may do so in a variety of ways typically not considered by the average citizen. When people think of corporate crime, they invariably conjure vague images of embezzlement of some form, usually occurring at a very high level indeed. The actual criminality a corporation may conduct, however, reflects the enormous, societal scope of the vast company itself: stock market manipulation, illegal cartels, environmental abuses, corrupting of civic authorities, tax evasions on grand scales, blanket gender, age, or race discrimination, and health and safety violations are only some of the crimes in this canon 10. Given this range of potentials, in fact, the greater wonder is that more corporations are not continually exposed for crime. It may well be, however, that the corporate parallel to society works in explaining most corporate compliance with the law and ethical conduct. That is to say, as a society disdains from criminality chiefly because it is in its best interests to do so, and not necessarily because of an ingrained morality, so too is it likely that corporations follow the rules to maintain their own survival.

Corporate crime, nonetheless, occurs. Then, as with any other means of addressing crime, there is the distinct aim of deterrence as the guiding force behind legal addressing of it. Regrettably, and also as with other forms of crime, there is conflicting evidence as to the success of corporate criminal prosecution as a deterring element. In terms of deterrence, which in the case of corporation criminality clearly translates to an active discouragement of law-breaking in such spheres, sanctions of a financial nature have, not unexpectedly, minimal effect. The nature of a corporation, and a substantial component of its power and presence, is an ability to absorb losses or financial setbacks which would cripple a smaller enterprise. Fortunately, the law is not restricted to only these modes of imposing penalties. Aside from the option of punishing individual offenders within the corporation, the law may also penalize the corporation itself, as a corporate entity may be as culpable as any human being guilty of wrongdoing. This is an avenue of the law with striking potentials, and one believed by the United Nations and the Council of Europe to be best practiced through agencies set in place specifically to create and implement deterrent penalties.

Once again, the sheer size of the corporation offers modes of punishment for crimes not applicable to the ordinary, criminal justice system. There is, first and foremost, a great deal at stake when a corporation face charges highly injurious to its standing, and this in itself provides a potent weapon as both deterrent and penalty. Corporations absolutely depend upon societal good will, to some measure; consequently, the factor of shame, as generated by external legislative investigation and by internal reactions within the corporation, may be one of the most effective means of diminishing corporate crime. A truly effective deterrent force in combating corporate crime will be developed only when the totality and scope of the corporation itself is fully taken into account.