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Crime, harm and corporate power

Chapter 5
Crime, harm and corporate power
Steve Tombs and David Whyte
1 Introduction 138
2 Corporate harm 139
2.1 Harms caused by theft and fraud 140
2.2 Harms caused by working 141
2.3 Harms caused by air pollution 143
2.4 Harms caused by food poisoning 143
3 From corporate harm to corporate crime? 147
3.1 Crime without (criminal) law? 147
3.2 The hidden gure of corporate crime 149
4 Power, crime and regulation 154
4.1 Corporate power in action 154
4.2 Regulation as conict management 157
5 The space between and within the laws 159
5.1 The space between the laws 160
5.2 Export processing zones 161
5.3 Corporate social responsibility: plugging the space
between the laws? 165
6 Conclusion 166
References 167
138 Crime: local and global
1 Introduction
Today, the corporation is so much a part of our everyday life it is
difficult to imagine that it is a relatively recent legal and political
construction. The earliest forms of the modern joint stock company
emerged in seventeenth-century England, established under Royal
Charter to enable colonisation of the Americas and India. Those
companies (such as the Virginia Company and the British East India
Company) allowed the wealth of several people to be combined and
brought under the name of one entity. From the end of the nineteenth
century onwards, a new type of limited liability company was
developed in the dominant economic nations, which allowed investors
to share in the profits of the company and at the same time remain
exempt from its losses or liabilities. In limited liability companies, the
dominant model of the modern corporation, shareholders (or owners)
losses are limited to the original sum that they invest. Corporations,
then, are legal entities that give particular privileges to those who enter
into business (the exchange and provision of goods and services for
agreed-upon fees). The term corporation is used to describe a number
of different participants (investors, directors, shareholders,
employees) who combine to mobilise and deliver business activities
(Pearce, 2001; Glasbeek, 2002).
As a business enterprise, the number and type of corporations continue
to expand. In the UK, for example, at the end of the 1970s, state
provision of goods, services and employment remained widespread.
Who would have imagined then that water, gas and electricity would,
three decades later, all be purchased in a private marketplace; or that
private provision of pensions, health care, and medical and
unemployment insurance would all be the stuff of daytime
advertising on television; or that the vagaries of national and
international stock markets would impact directly on payments for
housing or access to credit; or that most of us would rely on credit on an
everyday basis for shopping and paying bills? These are truly seismic
changes in the organisation of economic and social life (Tombs and
Whyte, 2009).
Globally, since postcolonial states sought to industrialise, the
economies of the former Soviet Union were opened up to free market
capitalism and the communist regime of China developed a form
of market economy, the geographical scale of corporate activity
has expanded rapidly. Alongside these changes, the emergence
of new technologies has made the flow of information, commodities
and money possible across borders at hitherto unimaginable speeds.
Chapter 5 Crime, harm and corporate power 139
Corporations are key enterprises with enormous economic, political and
social power, and just as enormous is the scale and potential for harm
and crimes on their part. It is with a critical analysis of some of these
that this chapter is concerned. In particular, the chapter aims to:
n identify ways in which corporations are a source of harms in
contemporary societies
n explore the extent to which official data allows us to measure
corporate crimes
n examine several key national and international dimensions of
corporate power and regulation.
The following section details the extent of death, injury, violence
and theft that can be attributed, either directly or indirectly, to
corporate activity. Some of this (such as fraud) falls within the gaze
of criminal law, but many more harms (such as airborne pollution)
seem to be committed with relative impunity (Passas and Goodwin,
2007). As a result, the central concern of this chapter is the
exploration of the relationship between harms and crimes and the
implications of applying not only greater regulation but also the
criminal law to corporate harmful activity. Section 3 explores some of
the difficulties faced by criminology in researching these issues, not
least the processes whereby corporate harm is systematically screened
out of the criminal justice system. As Section 4 outlines, the core issue
here is understanding the nature and exercise of power: how
corporations hold and use their power not only to evade
criminalisation or regulation, but also to influence how crime comes to
be defined. Section 5 places these issues in a broader context of
global economies and considers how far international regulatory
systems can be expected to curtail corporate malpractice, harm and
2 Corporate harm
This chapter is concerned with corporate crime and corporate harm in
particular, those crimes and harms that are committed within the
context of profit making and which victimise workers, consumers and
the general public. As this section will demonstrate, measuring with any
accuracy the scale of corporate harms is fraught with difficulty. These
harms are rarely, if ever, the concern of official crime statistics or victim
surveys. How, then, can we arrive at some understanding of the nature
and extent of harmful corporate activity?
140 Crime: local and global
Activity 5.1
Choose an example of corporate harm you will find numerous
examples by scanning the Web using the search words corporate,
crime, harm, violence. Make a note of the various sources of
information beyond newspaper reports that are available about the
case you select.
To assist your search, you may wish to consider the following
organisations: the Serious Fraud Office, the Financial Services Authority,
the Office of Fair Trading, the Food Standards Agency, the Health and
Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, or one of the hundreds of
local authorities (LAs) in the UK responsible for enforcing health and
safety law in over one million workplaces through their environmental
health officers.
You might have found a range of data sources (further to those listed
above), drawn from academic research across a range of disciplines (not
just criminology) and from official data published by government bodies
and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (but almost certainly not
by the Home Office). Official data sources are likely to be spread across a
plethora of national and local governmental departments or buried in
accountancy returns so that locating, collating and interpreting them
is a time-consuming and often frustrating process. Further, the most
informative data tends to be uncovered by investigative journalists, or
collated by interest or campaigning groups, not least those formed by, or
representing, victims. While these latter sources might invite the
charge of being less objective and reliable than information gathered or
stored by official/governmental sources, they can nevertheless help us
start to appreciate the scale of harm caused by corporations in the course
of business activity. What follows, then, is an attempt to bring together
this data in order to begin to unpack the extent of harms perpetrated by
2.1 Harms caused by theft and fraud
The general evidence available to us indicates that corporate fraud is
widespread. Donald Rebovich and John Kane (2002) have estimated that
37 per cent of the US population have been victims of some form of
corporate theft or fraud.
One the most prolific and well-known series of consumer thefts in the
UK was the personal pensions frauds, in which as many as 2.4 million
victims lost their pensions after being persuaded to replace their
Chapter 5 Crime, harm and corporate power 141
occupational pension schemes with high-risk private schemes by a
number of high street firms between 1988 and 1994 (Financial Services
Authority, 1999; Slapper and Tombs, 1999). To this can be added the
endowment mortgage frauds of the 1990s, which, through mis-selling a
particularly risky mortgage product to high-risk customers, created
victims in perhaps as many as 5 million cases (Consumers Association,
undated; Fooks, 2003). It is estimated that losses due to the endowment
mortgage frauds could total £130 billion (see Whyte, 2004a).
Corporate price fixing (the illegal agreement between parties to keep
prices artificially high) for example, in the electrical goods, car and
construction sectors has become routine activity for many of the
largest and most respected corporations (Slapper and Tombs, 1999;
Croall, 2001). News of this surfaces intermittently in reports of findings
by the Office of Fair Trading or the European Competition Commission
(see, for example, Office of Fair Trading, 2007; Walsh, 2007; and
European Competition Commission, 2008). It is often very difficult,
if not impossible, to distinguish what and how much fraud is produced
by corporations. The evidence cited above, however, is focused
unequivocally on corporate fraud, not least by a host of well-known,
high street names.
2.2 Harms caused by working
Death, injury and disease caused by working are global, routine
phenomena. The International Labour Organization (ILO), a United
Nations (UN) agency, has estimated that 2.2 million people die as a
result of work-related injuries or diseases every year (i.e. 3.9 per cent of
global deaths per annum). Further, there are around 270 million
occupational injuries and 160 million victims of work-related illnesses
annually (International Labour Organization, 2005).
This victimisation is distributed truly globally. Of the 345,000 workers
estimated by the ILO to have died in incidents (as opposed to dying
from occupational diseases and exposures) at the workplace in 2002, by
far the greatest number, almost 220,000, were in Asia. China had the
highest number of deaths of any one Asian country (73,595), India the
second highest (48,176). In Europe, workers in the states of the former
Soviet Union, which joined the EU from 2004, are three times as likely
to die at work than those in the EU-15, the states that made up the EU
up to 2004 (Woolfson, 2005).
In the UK, there are 12001500 work-related fatal injuries each year
(Tombs and Whyte, 2008). And in terms of fatal disease, an annual total
of some 50,000 deaths to workers in the UK has been estimated by Rory
ONeill et al. (2007). This conservative figure still excludes some major
142 Crime: local and global
Figure 5.1
Injuries occur in
various workplace
categories of disease, but includes cancers, respiratory illnesses and heart
In this category of harms there is therefore some degree of certainty that
the overwhelming majority of deaths caused by work occur in the
context of corporate or profit-making business activities of some type
(Tombs and Whyte, 2007).
Chapter 5 Crime, harm and corporate power 143
2.3 Harms caused by air pollution
Air, land and water pollutants are a further key cause of death and
disease; the focus here is on exposure to airborne pollutants. In global
terms, a recent estimate of the scale of death and disease as a result of
outdoor air pollution concluded that ambient air pollution causes about
800,000 (1.2 per cent of the total) premature deaths (Cohen et al., 2005):
a figure supported by the World Bank (Vidal, 2005) and the World
Health Organization (Global Atmospheric Pollution Forum, undated).
And as with the global distribution of work-related deaths, the effects of
air pollution too are predominantly located in those states that are the
least able in terms of resources either to prevent or respond to such
harms namely, the developing world. An estimated 65 per cent of
deaths from air pollution are in Asia (Cohen et al., 2005).
In the UK, according to Department of Health estimates, the deaths of at
least 24,000 people every year can be attributed to poisoning by various
forms of environmental air pollution and this is certainly an
underestimation (Department of Health Committee on the Medical
Effects of Air Pollutants, 2001).
Separating the corporate from individual sources of environmental
pollution (the key example of the latter being personal vehicle use) is
not an easy task. However, official data available does indicate that the
largest known killers are nitrogen oxide, fine particles emissions and
sulphur dioxides (Whyte, 2004b). The source of those major killers can
be identified as having commercial origins (Whyte, 2004b). Without
underestimating the extent of the harm caused by motor vehicles, it can
be assumed with confidence that most deadly environmental pollution
is caused directly by corporations.
2.4 Harms caused by food poisoning
A further sphere of possible corporate harm relates to the responsibility
that corporations might have for large numbers of food-related illnesses
and deaths. The full scale of food poisoning-related deaths remains
unknown, partly because of a lack of official figures, but also because of
the complex way in which food infection affects human health. So,
although between 100 and 200 people in the UK die directly as a result
of salmonella and campylobacter every year, this does not quite capture
the full extent of food poisoning-related deaths. Food poisoning cases
are known to have lasting and complex effects on health. For example, it
has been estimated that salmonella and campylobacter triple the average
persons chances of dying from any other disease or condition within a
year (Helms et al., 2003).
144 Crime: local and global
Figure 5.2
Living with chronic air
Chapter 5 Crime, harm and corporate power 145
However, government estimates do indicate that around half of all food
poisoning cases in the UK can be attributed to food consumed outside
the home (UK Parliament, 2003). The actual figures, though, may be
much higher: the fourth Food Standards Agency Consumer Attitudes to
Food Standards survey recorded self-reported incidence of food poisoning
at 16 per cent of the sample population, 82 per cent of these claiming
that the source was outside the home (TNS, 2004). Although it is likely
that the majority of those cases were caused by food sold by outlets
owned or franchised by large corporations, there is no data that allows
us to quantify those cases precisely.
Consider the case given in Box 5.1.
Box 5.1 Cadburys and salmonella
In January 2006, the confectioner Cadburys became aware of
salmonella in products at one of its UK factories in Herefordshire.
On discovering the contamination and its source, Cadburysdid
not inform relevant authorities such as the Food Standards Agency
and the Health Protection Agency. Six months later, in June, the
Health Protection Agency became concerned about an unusual rise
in human cases of Salmonella montevideo (Smithers, 2007). The
Food Standards Agency then requested Cadburys to withdraw
seven infected products; Cadburys took two days to comply with
the request (Smithers, 2007). Two of these brands, the Dairy Milk
Buttons Easter Egg and the 10p Freddo bar (Food Standards Agency,
2006), are marketed specifically at children, and in the period
between recognising the presence of salmonella and product recall,
Easter had come and gone. Over one million items of chocolate
were recalled from retailers (Smithers, 2007). The outbreak of
Salmonella montevideo led to three people being treated in hospital
(Elliot, 2007) and dozens of people became ill with food
poisoning (Smithers, 2007), including babies and children
under 10 (Elliott, 2007).
There followed a long and complex investigation, which was
undertaken by Birmingham City Council and Herefordshire
District Council, funded by a grant from the Food Standards
Agency of an estimated £50,000, in cash and in the form of
back-up experts (Smithers, 2007). The company apologised for
concern caused, but did not admit liability and was expected to
plead not guilty (Smithers, 2007). The investigation uncovered
another unreported outbreak of salmonella at Cadburys
Herefordshire plant in 2002. Cadburys eventually admitted nine
146 Crime: local and global
charges brought by Herefordshire and Birmingham councils (BBC,
2007) and was fined an unprecedented £1 million (Elliott,
2007). The court had been told that Cadburyshad changed its
testing procedures on chocolate in 2003 to save money and
waste (Elliott, 2007). The self-declared worlds largest
confectionery company, Cadbury Schweppes annual revenue
for 2007 was £7,971 million (Cadbury Schweppes, 2008). The
combined fine plus costs £1,152,000 (Elliott, 2007)
represents 0.0145 per cent of revenue. To put it another way,
this is equivalent to a fine of £4.35 for someone earning, in
2007, what was the UK average gross income of £30,000.
In Cadbury Schweppes Corporate and Social Responsibility Report,
the product recall merited two paragraphs, in which the company
noted that it had acted in good faith throughout and guaranteed
to modify production and quality assurance processes, concluding
that We will continue, as we always have, to recall products if
necessary. Consumers are at the heart of our decision-making
(Cadbury Schweppes, 2006, p. 42).
You will have seen from even this brief review of a small subset of harms
that it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the scale of corporate
harm either within the UK or internationally. Nonetheless, on the basis
of the data that is available, two unequivocal conclusions can be
1 People are killed globally each year on a huge scale by corporate
2 Even on the basis of a small number of known corporate frauds and
thefts, the extent in terms of numbers of people affected and total
economic losses of such harms is vast.
It is important to be clear here and to note that the chapter thus far has
focused more on harm than on crime. But the data introduced to this
point does indicate a clear conclusion: that the numbers of people who
have been victims of corporate harms dwarf those forms of theft and
violence with which we are more familiar. It is to a consideration of how
far corporate theft, fraud and violence can be clearly defined within the
category of crime that the chapter now turns.
Chapter 5 Crime, harm and corporate power 147
3 From corporate harm to corporate
If it is difficult to measure the extent to which each of the categories of
deaths, injuries, illnesses, exposures and financial losses, outlined in
Section 2, is the result of corporate activities, it is similarly difficult to
estimate the extent to which each is the consequence of corporate
criminal activities. In effect, two somewhat separate questions are posed
1 How can corporate harm be defined as crime?
2 How can corporate crime be measured?
These will be dealt with in turn in this section.
3.1 Crime without (criminal) law?
The origins of the study of corporate crime are generally traced back to
the pioneering work of Edwin Sutherland and his attempt to determine
a concept of white-collar crime as a crime committed by a person of
respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation
(Sutherland, 1983, p. 7). Sutherland recognised that powerful business
and professional men routinely committed crimes and that, in so doing,
they were aided by the power of their class to influence the
implementation and administration of the law (Sutherland, 1983).
Sutherland also sought to produce a more encompassing definition of
crime than that delineated by criminal law. Crime requires the legal
description of an act as socially injurious and legal provision of a penalty
for the act (Sutherland, 1945, p. 132). This definition recognises that
many laws that are enforced by administrative bodies regulate actions
that both cause harm to specific individuals and undermine social
institutions. It also recognises that there is a range of formal legal
responses other than criminal prosecution.
Sutherlands definition of white-collar crime has a number of
significant theoretical and empirical implications. On the basis of such
an inclusive definition, one would find that:
n the common image of typical crimes and typical criminality, and the
general acceptance of these by criminology, is inaccurate crime
occurs throughout society
n a criminology that explains criminal behaviour solely in terms of
the pathology of lower-class individuals or their families is
148 Crime: local and global
n the scope of criminology needs to be extended to take account of a
wider range of conduct and the political processes that define a
particular event or behaviour as criminal or not.
The concept of white-collar crime encompasses a heterogeneous range
of actions, with different kinds of offenders, offences, victims,
consequences, modus operandi, goals, capacities to avoid detection, and
likely outcomes of legal processes. Sutherland also applied it to corporate
activity (Cressey, 1989).
An immediate, systematic critique of Sutherlands work was set out
by the legal scholar Paul Tappan (1947), who argued that the
label crime should be applied only to those acts successfully
prosecuted as violations of criminal law (see also Chapter 1). Tappans
critique raised at least three substantial points, which remain of
1 Those offences typically committed by business people are inherently
different from criminal offences.
2 Many of the actions that Sutherlands definition would criminalise
are in fact within the framework of the norms of ordinary business
practice (Tappan, 1947, p. 99).
3 To extend the definition of crime beyond the fact of successful
processing through the criminal courts is to enter the sphere of
moralising or propaganda (Tappan, 1947).
Sutherland retained a definition of crime that made reference to law
in so far as he defined offences in terms of what was punishable, rather
than those that had actually been punished, by law; but he also
extended the term crime to cover offences beyond those prescribed by
criminal law. That is, he recognised that a large number of offences that
could be punished in law were not in fact punished they went
undetected, or, if detected, were not acted upon, or, if acted upon, were
then subject to forms of enforcement action different from normal
criminal processing. Whereas for Tappan, Sutherland obscured the very
real differences between criminal and harmful behaviour, for
Sutherland these differences were in many respects contingent and,
more specifically, an effect of relations of power. Sutherland was quite
clear that the differential interpretation and enforcement of law against
white-collar crime is based partly on the fact that legislators, judges and
administrators within the criminal justice system are either subject to
the material and ideological influence of business people, or share their
ideological and/or cultural worldviews (Sutherland, 1945). These aspects
of corporate power are considered in greater detail below.
Chapter 5 Crime, harm and corporate power 149
Activity 5.2
Now return to the case you identified in Activity 5.1. Re-examine that
case in relation to the following questions:
n What terms were employed to talk about your case? Was it framed as
an accident,as malpractice,as harm or as a crime?
n Did the case involve clear breaches of the criminal law? (Had it been
successfully prosecuted by the criminal courts?)
n Or, were other types of law (or regulation) being used to control or
respond to this case?
n If the criminal law was not evoked, what authorities were given
responsibility for dealing with the case?
Distinguishing crime from harm is not an easy task, certainly in the
corporate context. The extent to which crime is defined only in terms of
a (successfully prosecuted) violation of criminal law radically affects the
amount of crime that can be identified. Yet if much corporate conduct is
subject to law other than criminal law, and is dealt with by bodies (not
the police, of course, who deal with real crime) that prefer to use
informal methods of responding to offences (without resorting to formal
enforcement), this will have significant effects on the volume of
recorded corporate offending (and will, arguably, also affect popular and
political assessments of its seriousness).
3.2 The hidden gure of corporate crime
The view one takes as to how to define a corporate crime has real
consequences. Thus, the majority of corporate harms, even if they are
punishable, remain largely unregulated in practice. The term regulated
is used to indicate that those crimes are not policed in the usual sense
of the word. As you have already discovered in this chapter, corporate
crimes are normally dealt with using different types of enforcement
authorities (regulatory agencies) and often with different types of
(administrative or regulatory) law. As a result, they typically remain
outside the ambit of mainstream criminal legal procedure. If they do
become subject to law enforcement, they tend to be separated from the
criminal law (and processed using administrative or informal disposals
rather than prosecution). Even if they are subject to the formal processes
of criminal law, corporate crimes are rarely viewed as equivalent to real
crimes. These issues are now explored further.
150 Crime: local and global
In the case of environmental pollution-related deaths, for example, it is
highly unlikely that any will result in prosecution. This is partly because
cases of deaths brought forward (the term used by the Department of
Health to describe premature death) by pollution are not generally
subjected to any process of investigation, and partly because of the
complexities of investigating and prosecuting such cases. Thus, in the
seven years between 2000 and 2007, the Environment Agency in the UK
prosecuted only ninety-nine industrial pollution offences (personal
communication between David Whyte and Environment Agency, 4 April
2008). Does this mean only ninety-nine crimes were committed during
this period?
Unless the victim lives or works close to a major source of pollution, it
may be difficult to identify a link between the source of the pollution
and the victim. However, even in cases where identifying a source may
be possible, prosecution for causing a death is likely to be difficult to
pursue unless there has been a breach of regulations. One issue that
takes this beyond the scope of criminal process is that much of the air
and water pollution that has deadly effect is often legalised it is
permitted by government licence.
Of the 12001500 work-related fatal injuries each year in the UK,
noted in Section 2.2, typically only 8090 lead to successful prosecutions
per annum. Further, as research by the Centre for Corporate
Accountability (2002) shows, only 1 per cent of occupational illness
and disease that is reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
is prosecuted (and only a very small proportion of cases are ever
Many, if not most, food poisoning cases are likely to be a direct result
of criminal breaches of food hygiene and food safety legislation.
Nonetheless, prosecutions of any food regulation breaches, including
those that lead to death, are rare. In 2000/2001, around half of all local
authorities failed to lay one single prosecution for breaches of food law
(Food Standards Agency, 2001). In 2006/2007, the Food Standards
Agency recorded a total of 443 establishments being prosecuted, of
which 372 were convicted (Food Standards Agency, 2008). Those
prosecutions followed over half a million (582,167) on-the-spot
inspections of food establishments (production, packaging,
distributions, retail, and so on).
In the majority of cases, we therefore have little idea about whether the
deaths, injuries and illnesses caused by corporate activity might have
involved criminal breaches of the law. This is partly because they are so
rarely investigated. It should also be noted that a further key
contributory factor is the fact that corporate victimisation generally
Chapter 5 Crime, harm and corporate power 151
appears to us, even as direct victims, in a relatively abstract form (Whyte,
2007; Tombs and Williams, 2008). Major harms such as illness caused
by work, pollution or food poisoning tend not to be thought of as
having been produced by corporate activity; rather, they are typically
constructed as accidents rather than as harms that are preventable and
The way in which the law constructs those harms further discourages us
from considering them as crimes when compared, for example, to
interpersonal crimes. Thus, we do not think about our employer or our
local supermarket as a habitual criminal, despite the fact that they may
break the law routinely in ways that are harmful to us. And if we are
relatively unaware that we are being victimised by an identifiable
criminal committing a criminal offence, we are hardly likely to report it
as such. This is reflected in the fact that only 23 per cent of people
suffering food poisoning reported their case to their local council or an
environmental health officer. Of this percentage, just 11 per cent were
aware of any action being taken against the outlet in question
(TNS, 2004).
Activity 5.3
Think about your own possible victimisation by corporate crime. Have
you ever:
n experienced symptoms that you thought were some form of food
poisoning after eating in a café, restaurant or fast food outlet, or after
eating something you bought from a store?
n bought goods that did not do what you had been led to think
they would do, or paid for a service that was clearly not as
n suffered an injury or illness that you thought was linked to working
or know someone who has?
n experienced sore eyes or a burning throat when walking through a
busy town or city?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, what did you think of
your experience? Or do about it? Did you consider yourself a victim of
bad luck, or as clumsy or accident prone, or as learning a lesson? Or did
you think about yourself as a potential victim of a crime? If the latter, a
crime by whom or what? And if a crime, to whom should you have
turned to report it?
152 Crime: local and global
Most of us can probably answer yes to most of the questions above. But
we are unlikely to think of ourselves as victims of corporate crime in
these cases. Even if we think of ourselves as victims of corporate harm,
we are unlikely to think of this harm as criminal. If we believe a crime
has been committed, we are often unable to link our victimisation to
one specific company; even if we could, most of us would have little idea
of how or where to report this, or how to seek redress. And even if we
did know how to go about both of these, we might (perhaps rationally)
calculate that it would not be worth the effort.
Of course, the mass media may play an important role here for the
media offers, by definition, a series of sites in which relatively hidden
social phenomena, including social problems and crimes, may be
brought to wider attention. This is also particularly pertinent given the
extensive, and some would say increasing, attention across all forms of
media given to crime per se to the extent that some have argued that
crime is a salient feature of modern life (Garland, 2001).
It would certainly be inaccurate to claim that there is no coverage of
corporate crime through various forms of mass media. It is, however,
clear that the media tends to operate as a further, and mutually
reinforcing (when set alongside law, politics, victimisation, and so on),
social process that maintains an enduring and obdurate distinction
between corporate crime and corporate offenders on the one hand, and
real crime and real criminals on the other. Thus, whether we survey
Figure 5.3
If Corporate Crime was
as Visible as Street
Chapter 5 Crime, harm and corporate power 153
fictional or documentary-style treatments of crime on television news, in
newspapers or crime fiction, in bookshops or cinema, we find that
although some attention may be paid to corporate crime, representations
of crime converge to produce blanket conceptualisations regarding law
and order that reinforce dominant stereotypes of crime and the criminal
(Chibnall, 1977). Thus, where corporate crime is covered, as it
undoubtedly is, its presence is vastly outweighed by treatments of
conventional crime and tends to be treated in lesser profile outlets or
formats. The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times, for example, are useful
sources of corporate crime stories, but have small, specialist circulations.
Moreover, when corporate crime is treated, it tends to be represented
more factually and in the rather sanitising language of frauds, food
scares, drugs scandals, chemical or oil spills, accidents at work, rail
accidents, tragedies at sea, financial irregularities, and so on, rather than
in the sensational language of real crimes (theft, murder, violence,
poisoning) (Tombs and Whyte, 2001).
Activity 5.4
Select one broadsheet and one tabloid newspaper from the same day.
n find all stories in each newspaper that are related to (a) conventional
crime and (b) corporate crime, and cut these out or copy them
n do a basic count of the stories devoted to conventional crime, on the
one hand, and those devoted to corporate crime, on the other
n record the pages on (and/or sections in) which they are found
n make a brief summary of the tone/nature of the corporate crime
stories when compared with the conventional crime stories.
One of the points often made about corporate crime is that coverage of
this type of crime is absent from the media. But this is rather simplistic
and somewhat inaccurate. What you may have found in your survey of
crime reports through two newspapers is that, in relative terms:
corporate crime is much less visible; corporate crime is reported in a
tone and language that is more plainly descriptive and less
sensationalised, with an absence of the labels crime or criminal;
corporate crime stories are more likely to be tucked away in specialist
financial, business or money pages; and corporate crime stories tend to
be less visible in the high sales tabloids they are more likely to be
found in broadsheets and in the specialist financial press.
154 Crime: local and global
In short, through a series of processes operating at various different
levels and stages, the prospect of corporate crimes being treated as
crime is systematically screened out. One net effect of these