The purpose of this research is to examine and consider different forms of crime in light of their similarities and differences, origins, and financial and social costs, as well as to offer suggestions for controlling or eliminating the corporate crime propagated by multinational companies. The actions of these global monopolies, in the final analysis, are reflections of the economic structure of the United States or other capitalist based political economies. As William J. Chambliss (1978) asserts about the crime network in Seattle:
They were operating to maximize profits, to protect their investments from competition, to expand markets, and to provide goods and services demanded by “the people” (p. 188).
This analysis can be accurately applied to corporate crime in general. When the profit motive is the driving force of the economy, individuals and their labor become commodities to serve the ends of these who own the means of production. Only when these roots of crime are adequately acknowledged and addressed will productive solutions be found to ensure their elimination.
Corporate crime, according to T. R. Young, is defined as the actions taken in violation of the law by corporations according to the statutes of the country in which they are operating. This differs significantly from white collar crime which Young limits to crimes committed by employees of the corporation or business against those employers. White collar crime may include the worker who “takes home” some of his working materials for personal use as well as the computer technician who systematically reroutes funds from the personal accounts of individuals at the bank where he is employed into an account of his own.
Organized crime refers to illegal activities offered to the public such as prostitution, gambling, drugs, pornography, protection, and loan-sharking. In addition, as Chambliss discovered only too well, organized crime also envelops members of the public who supposedly operate within the realm of legal or legitimate business. Members of the police force, business owners, and all ranks of the legal profession are often on the payrolls of and actually constitute organized crime . In the Seattle study, this crime network was established in part to serve as a source of funds for politicians at all levels. Unorganized crime refers to crime committed by individuals or small groups of individuals against other individuals, for example, rape, robbery, assault, theft, burglary and murder. Political crimes includes activities taken by political organizations as a way of dramatizing their message or sabotaging the efforts of the opposition. Militant civil rights and anti-war activities often led to the bombings of army research centers and obstructing racist operations by deliberating violating “white” policy. Today, anti-nuclear activists may damage the fuel rods at a nuclear power plant. In political crime, then, usually there is not a profit motive involved.
Especially now that the recession is giving way to increasing unemployment every day, further stratifying society into the haves and the have-nots, street crime is rising steadily. Rape statistics, for example, now indicate that one out of every 13 women in the United States will be raped. However, “by almost every estimate, crime in the suites (i.e. corporate crime) exacts an even heavier toll on the nation’s economy” (Pauly, 1979, p. 114). According to Benjamin Civiletti, U.S. Attorney General, corporate crime accounts for losses that place in the billions. A study conducted by Marshall B. Clinard, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin, revealed that of 582 U.S. corporations over 60 percent had been accused of committing an average of five illegal activities.
The social costs of corporate crime presented by Mother Jones in a series of in-depth articles is staggering. “Dumping,” or exporting to foreign countries items which have been banned from sale in the United States, has netted U.S. multinationals approximately $1.2 billion at the cost of death to millions and the possibility that many others may contract cancer or bear children with birth defects caused by the effect of pesticides. Corporations which “dump” use several methods in attempts to avoid detection, or at least prosecution by authorities.
Firstly, if a certain product is deemed unsafe by a health agency and the producer is forced (usually under great protest) to remove it from the market, the product name is then changed to disguise the product abroad. If there is potential that a certain product or chemical will not pass the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency, the corporation simply decides to remove it from the registration process and label it “for export only.” In so doing the corporation avoids the embarrassment, not to mention the prospect of financial loss, of having to follow the legal requirement of notifying the importing country that the chemical or product has been banned for sale in the United States. Often, a third dumping trick is used by drug and pesticide corporations; by adding or subtracting inert ingredients, a formula can escape the detection of spectrometers and other types of scanning devices which have been preset to sort out certain molecular structures. If a country has a law which states that no drug may be imported that has not been approved for use by the exporting nation, the corporation easily circumvents the requirement by first exporting the product to a country which has no regulatory agency to ban a product’s use. This country then becomes the country of origin for the product. Finally, corporations are able to dump banned items secretly by exporting the ingredients separately and then combining them later after the export has been successfully completed.
The export of contraceptive devices known to cause harm and even death to women provide a case in point about the social costs of corporate dumping. Ray T. Ravenholt (1977), director of the office of Population within the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) was a firm believer in population control in underdeveloped countries. Interestingly, he stated simply that “population explosions, unless stopped, would lead to revolutions” (Ehrenreich, et al., 1979, p. 10) which would seriously endanger, it can be added, the serenity of the operations’ of the multinationals.
Shortly after the intrauterine device known as the Dalkon Shield went on the market in the U.S. in 1971, numerous cases of pelvic inflammatory disease, blood poisoning, pregnancies resulting in spontaneous abortions, ectopic pregnancies and perforations of the uterus often requiring hysterectomies were reported. By 1974, 17 women had died from using the shield. Doctors reported that the device was difficult to insert properly, often causing the woman a great deal of pain.
Still, Ravenholt with $125 million in government funds allocated to spend specifically on contraceptives to be distributed abroad, decided to purchase the shields. This decision, of course, greatly pleased shield manufacturer A. H. Robin whose company needed to expand its market because of the negative publicity the product was receiving at home. To give AID additional incentive, A. H. Robins offered the AID a special deal: bulk packages of unsterilized shields at a discount of 48 percent. This is ludicrous as infection, resulting from bacteria, is one of the biggest reported problems of the shield. U.S. medical officials estimated the number of infections resulting from the use of sterile shields to be over 200,000. Furthermore, only one set of insertion instructions was included for every 1000 shields which were sold and the instructions themselves were written only in English, French and Spanish “although the devices were destined for 42 countries from Ethiopia to Malaysia.” And, adding further to the chance of infection, only 10 inserters were provided for every 100 shields-meaning that inserters would actually have to be used over again on different women! According, to Robins, insertion of the device was so easy that it could be learned by any paramedic in 30 minutes.
Another contraceptive, the injection Depo Provera, has been dumped, with government assistance, by the Upjohn Company on over 5 million women in over 70 countries. However, according to Mother Jones (1979) “the list of known side effects, complications and potentially lethal hazards (of the drug) could fill several magazine-size pages with small print” (p. 10). Banned by the FDA finally in 1978, Depo Provera has caused cancer in test monkeys and dogs, “menstrual chaos,” permanent sterility and can cause congenital heart defects, and for female fetuses, masculinization and an enlarged clitoris. Lethal pacifiers, pajamas, pesticides, and numerous other goods banned in the United States have been dumped by corporations.
The profit motive is behind these corporate crimes. As T. R. Young (1978) suggests,
The corporation is a natural instrument for capitalist crime and was invented for that purpose. Its purpose is to realize the surplus value of labor via the market and price system (p. 9).
Most of the executives who commandeer the corporations are able to hide from prosecution behind legal shields. As David Pauly reports, most of the executives which have been convicted of corporate crimes, never go to jail. For those that have spent time behind bars, the average prison stay has been 2.8 days. They have the strength of their corporations and their political organized crime connections to support them and minimize or nullify any legal ramifications for their actions.
As Young has suggested, capitalism and the presence of a mass society which is controlled by capitalist/elitist bureaucracies is the cause for crime, the factor which links all forms of crime together. As capitalism expands and exploits, it reproduces its exploitative relationships in four ways. Firstly, the pursuit of profit by corporations leads to bribery, fraud, marketing of dangerous products, neglect of harmful working conditions. White collar crime is a derivative of that: employees are hostile toward the corporations who reap big profits but pass little of them on to them or to the consumer. As, in a capitalist society, everything becomes a commodity, organized crime takes advantage of needs which are unfilled for the workers and offers them drums, prostitution, and gambling. Finally, the worker , alienated from his job as well as his own interests, unable to adequately purchase the goods and services needed for sustenance while simultaneously being bombarded with false needs created by the commercial media, is drawn into unorganized crime to supplement his income or attempt to relieve the frustration of his unactualized conditions.
Chambliss (1978) would not disagree with this analysis. Crime, he says, is actually a mirror of the political economy, taking its characteristic from the economic institutions which pervade the society. In his words:
From the perspective of political economy the most important theoretical model for understanding crime . . . is the dialectic: criminality reflects and stems from the contradictions that inhere in the political and economic structure of society; these contradictions create conflicts and attempts to resolve them. The resolutions forged, in turn, reveal other contradictions, further conflicts and more resolutions (p. 8).
Thus, crime is reliant on the cyclical oppression and operations of capitalism. Though class divisions are becoming more and more extreme, programs to appease workers by–for instance, nominal wage increases–have thus far kept capitalism on its feet, and provided the impetus for criminal activity. There is no mafioso godfather at the helm, it is the system.
For this reason Chambliss asserts that the only way to end corporate crime is to change the system which propagates it: revolt to true socialism. However, as he is realistic enough to ascertain that a proletariat revolution is not near in coming, he suggests that a method for reducing crime networks is to decriminalize the activities in which there is high demand which would otherwise be satiated by illegal operations.
Young suggests that as capitalism destroyed the sense of solidarity among individuals, restoring community would then counter capitalism. As capitalism necessarily produces surplus populations which are unhappy populations, he carries a neo-Marixan perspective which believes that eventually this dissatisfied and alienated mass will rise up and revolt against the oppressive class to form a democratic socialist based society. Once the class divisions become disparate enough, the revolution could occur quickly.
Mother Jones offers some pragmatic solutions about how to stymie corporate crime like dumping until such “moral transformation” occurs. First, dumping must be clearly defined legally and all products which are found to be too dangerous for use in America should be labelled “illegal for export.” Dumping should be made a criminal offense and the government should be responsible for enforcement. In addition, products which have been banned, suspended or canceled or withdrawn from registration should be listed and the U.S. regulatory agencies should directly inform the appropriate foreign officials.
These ideas are positive and should be implemented. The revolution may not be immanent but as the problem of corporate crime has its origins in the profit motive of the capitalist system, changes could be made which could substantially deplete corporate manipulation. Many corporations could be nationalized by the government. Although much organized crime exists among politicians, presumably an individual with the guts and the ability to wrestle the corporations away would be less corruptible. The system must be changed, for it is the system which is responsible for the crime.