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What is Corporate Crime?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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Corporate crime, also called white-collar crime or organized crime, refers to criminal offenses that are committed by persons during the course of legitimate business activities. The crimes are often non-violent and involve such crimes as fraud, insider trading, and money laundering. Another type of offense is state-corporate crime, in which the corporations that rely on states for financial support commit crimes to gain profits illegally. The principals and directors of corporations can be charged with corporate crimes, and the corporation itself can be organized to commit crimes. The employees of businesses and corporations may also commit crimes, often without the knowledge of the owners or principals of the business.

The term white-collar is often associated with professional workers who wear business shirts, as opposed to blue-collar for workers in industrial or low-wage jobs. Many of the individuals who have been charged with corporate crime are considered middle or upper class in their society and are professional workers. The crimes that they commit in business settings do not often involve crimes of violence, such as murder or battery. Those who commit white-collar crimes commit non-violent crimes, involving unethical activities, fraud, and financial theft. For example, health care fraud is a type of corporate crime where employees submit fraudulent information in order to obtain increased amounts of reimbursements from an insurance company for medical services.

The corporation or business entity is said to commit a corporate crime if it is organized for that purpose. The mission of a corporation of this type is to use illegal means to gain profits and remain in business. The crime is often carried out by all levels of the corporation, such as the board of directors, the officers, and corporate managers. Some of the criminal offenses that are common to corporate criminals include falsification of corporate financial statements, corporate abuse of anti-trust laws, and bribing government officials for their corporation’s gain. When corporations are organized for money laundering purposes, they can be charged with corporate crimes.

Some laws make it possible to defer the prosecution of a corporate crime, and some criminals may even be able to avoid it. The non-prosecution agreement and the deferred prosecution agreement are examples of ways that criminals can work with law enforcement to avoid or delay prosecution. With a deferred prosecution agreement, the government charges the accused, but may drop the charges within a certain period of time if the corporation does not commit any further crimes. The non-prosecution agreement allows criminals to pay a fine but avoid being charged with crimes.

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Discussion Comments

By anon988442 — On Feb 11, 2015

Corporate crime and white collar crime are not the same thing as the author suggests at the beginning of this text.

While it is true that corporate crime and white collar crime overlap, they are two different things. Corporate crime refers to criminal actions undertaken by a corporation that has a separate legal entity from the natural persons that run it, or by a person who is acting on the behalf of that corporation. White collar crime refers to the criminal actions of an individual themselves. This does not necessarily have anything to do with the company.

By Hoa — On Apr 19, 2012

Some people think that "corporate crime" means the crime occurs in a firm or economic company. That means corporate is a company and they disagree with what the author of this topic said: "Corporate crime, also called white-collar crime or organized crime".

By Bakersdozen — On May 31, 2011

@Valencia - That sounds like an interesting paper and topic.

Malfeasance is a legal term which refers to making an order or decision known to be illegal.

I would look for information on major polluting disasters, and the role of the people in charge. I am sure there are several cases where the executives have been found negligient by continuing to operate despite being aware of impending or actual problems.

By Valencia — On May 28, 2011

I have to write a paper on social and environmental justice, using the keywords pollution and malfeasance, in relation to the definition of corporate crime.

This explanantion has been helpful for background information, but if anyone could add more on these two things I would be really grateful.

By MissMuffet — On May 26, 2011

@Potterspop - I understand where you are coming from. It does seem unfair that the punishments for corporate crime are different from the usual.

Having said that, if it is company policy which is responsible for the crime, the resulting fines and perhaps limitations on actions, are more fitting than jail terms. If one person is found to be solely responsible then I think their victims should be compensated at the very least.

By Potterspop — On May 24, 2011

I think it's maddening that corporate corruption is so often considered a victimless crime. Having watched my aunt and uncle lose their life savings this way I can't accept that opinion at all.

Maybe people who have been affected by violent crimes would disagree with me, but in my opinion corporate crime cases are just as bad as any other.

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