Is corporate crime really a crime? Asking this question in itself signifies the assumption that there is ambiguity regarding the definition of corporate crime. What exactly is the corporate crime? The term encapsulates a spectrum of illegal activities performed by corporate employees, which may include embezzlement of a company’s funds, products or other assets. There is some hesitation, however, to define this term too narrowly or instead, too generally. Part of the struggle in defining corporate crime comes from its ambiguous character. If too narrowly defined, those who should be convicted of the crime will not be held responsible for their actions. Conversely, if too generally explained, the definition could possibly implicate people who are ultimately innocent.
Due to the nature of corporate crime, it is often difficult to confidently convict one of a crime. For instance, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an organization may use a portion of his clients’ financial assets to travel for business purposes without notifying the client of how her money is spent. Before long, the CEO may be using his client’s funds liberally and carelessly. In many cases, it is not a person’s intent to directly harm the client. In fact, many people who commit corporate crime intend to borrow money and eventually plan to return what they’ve taken. In this scenario, however, his better judgment has been overcome by greed and recklessness. The onus now falls upon the judicial system to closely examine those actions which constitute legitimate business-related expenses versus those that are excessive and frivolous.
Often times, corporate crime is not looked upon as maliciously as in an armed robbery, for instance, due to the lack of immediate intent to harm. Lack of malice, however, does not abandon the verify that corporate crime is indeed a crime, and further, a very serious and devastating one. As seen in one of the most recent corporate scandals within the United States, many Enron employees were left without a job, savings, or any alternatives. In this situation, employees were victims of corporate fraud. Their livelihood was altered due to fraudulent activities of executives.
Other factors further complicate the nature of corporate crime. Corporate, or white collar crime, as stated by some scholars in the field, is not included in the traditional sense of crime. Criminology was originally based on crimes committed by those of low socioeconomic status. Perpetrators of corporate crime are most distinctive from traditional criminals in that they are part of the higher socioeconomic population; thus the title white collar crime. Therefore, a large part of the difficulty in defining and addressing corporate crime is embedded in the reality that it is a newer breed among criminal offenses. Further, corporate administrators are often assumed to be charismatic, knowledgeable people of strong moral character. This assumption leads to the sometimes false belief that the accused could not have possibly committed a crime.
Legislature regarding corporate crime has varied from very lenient toward corporations to extremely stringent. This lack of consistency seems to be a reflection of the various resulting effects of corporate crime. In some instances, victimization by corporate crime may not be severe and may even go undetected by some victims. In unfortunate circumstances, however, victims may be greatly affected by crimes such as embezzlement or fraud. Another factor in fluctuating legislature may be due to some large corporations’ ability to influence lawmakers’ decisions. For instance, a corporate executive may advocate for a particular lawmaker to be re-elected in the event that the legislature creates laws favorable to corporations.
With the overwhelming evidence of damage resulting from the corporate crime, it clearly constitutes itself as a crime. Whether it is a petty crime or large-scale scheme, many lives are ultimately affected by the wiles of corporate misdeeds. Further, corporations are expected to hold business in an honest and ethical environment. Even if damage to others is minimal, business is not being conducted in an ethical fashion. Some crimes may be made out of ignorance, but most crimes are born out of the knowledge that one is committing a crime. It is important to keep in mind that many corporate CEOs started their business without the intent to become involved in criminal activity. However, their fervor for success sometimes converts into greed. Once an executive takes this turn, he is equally as guilty as one who invades a home and robs it of all belongings.
Although at this time, it is agreed upon by most proponents of criminology that corporate crime is indeed considered criminal activity, there is yet to be appropriate research on the topic. Some research does exist, however, is incomparable to the amount of research that exists on other, more overt forms of crime. Less attention to corporate crime also translates to ignorance toward its occurrence and a lack of law enforcement against it. Many scholars involved in the fields of sociology and even criminology have seemed to shy away from this topic, possibly due to its ambivalent and controversial nature. Ironically, it is for this reason that there is a greater necessity to concentrate efforts toward this pervasive issue and expose its devastating ills.