Tuesday, 22 April 2008

What is Corporate Crime?

I know I haven't posted too much about crime and criminology recently, so here's a something I've been working on to make up for it. This piece is commentary on the second chapter of Steven Box’s Power, Crime and Mystification, which is on this subject.

So what is corporate crime. Box discusses three general types of crimes involving corporations. Firstly there are crimes which are committed against corporations – things such as embezzlement of company funds, theft from the workplace etc. I think this fits much better within talking about white-collar crimes which can include other organisations. The second type is crimes that are committed for corporations – things such as price-fixing, tax fraud etc. The third is corporations that are set up purely to commit crimes – for example a fake company that purchases goods without paying for them. To my mind however, this third group can be split into two which are both forms of the previous two categories. Box concentrates on the second group which he sees as true corporate crime.

Box unfortunately limits himself to dealing with acts that are currently illegal – but as anyone who has studied criminology knows just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s harmful and just because is legal doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful either. Box’s reason for limiting himself to this is to make sure he can still appeal to those with liberal sensibilities – a poor excuse really – given as we shall see that corporate crimes are endemic within the capitalist system that such liberals support.

Box presents figure for deaths from 1973-79 showing that workplace related deaths (about 1600 per year) accounted for almost four times as many deaths per year as homicides (about 440 per year). And this is by the conservative estimates of the Health and Safety Executive. Furthermore when this is adjusted for the population that are potentially at risk of these deaths (the workplace population is less than the total population) then the ratio of workplace related deaths to homicides become a shocking 7:1. And this is only workplace related corporate killings, what about improperly tested drugs, industrial pollution etc.

Additionally in the same period there was an average per year of 330,000 non-fatal accidents at work, with an annual average of 14,000 people being diagnosed as suffering from an occupationally induced disease. Added together they average 3 times more than the average for indictable crimes during that period. And again, these figures are based on official data and ignores things that will affect consumers. According to figures Box quotes in the USA 20 million out of 250 million a year are seriously injured by consumer products.

As Box goes on to note “Given the relative invisibility of these crimes, even to those victimized, the fact that they are infrequently reported to or detected by relevant authorities, the absence of any centralized data-collecting agency, and the inconsistent publication of those that are collected, it is impossible to quantify with any accuracy just how serious corporate crime is in economic terms. Furthermore, the figures involved are so astronomic as to be literally incomprehensible.” (pg. 31)

The fact remains that corporate crime is widespread and does far more damage than ‘street crime’. Box is correct, however, when he argues that this doesn’t mean we should ignore ‘street crime’, rather corporate crime ought to be studied almost at least as much as this currently is. However, I would contend that it is less in the interests of capitalism to put the focus of the public and research onto this area than ‘street crime’ (this is not to say that they don’t want it studied – too much corporate crime gets noticed and the system will take some of this blame as well as the company/individual responsible).


Renegade Eye said...

Before Superman was sold to corporate comic distributors, he was a lefty.

He fought mine owners and big landlords.

Really good broad crime definitions.

Louisefeminista said...

I admit I like Steve Box and the chapter you mention is very interesting.

There is this focus on street crime as it is "up close and personal" but it's only a fraction and not the full picture. And the media emphasises street crime and the various surveys released every year i.e. Police stats and the BCS.

I attended the Workers' Memorial Day demo and the speakers and the stats speak highlight the overwhelming no. of people who die in workplace fatalities.

People dying due to asbestos related illnesses has overtaken road accidents. And yet NL (Corporate Manslaughter legislation is utterly toothless) don't wanna upset shareholders or rock the capitalist boat or toughen up and enforce health and safety. What is the value of a human life under capitalism?

There are other social harms too that are not brought into focus and that's around the family such as child abuse and domestic violence. The public/private sphere.

The true number is higher than the official stats yet these crimes are still minimised and hidden within the family unit (But that's another debate re the role of the family under patriarchal capitalism).