Incriminating Corporate Conduct
1. Corporate behavior criminalization refers to those legislations that are meant to make a particular conduct by corporation or persons that may be identified with the corporation illegal.
2. A number of corporations have found themselves on the wrong side of the law in history. Perhaps the perfect example in this case to begin with would be the British Petroleum Corporation. BP crimes are dated back in 1965 when the oilrig Sea Gem collapsed killing thirteen members in the ice-cold waters of the North Sea. This incident opened a new chapter in the company’s history, as the years that followed were no better either. Four decades that ensued were characterized by more criminal activities that included toxic waste dumping, oil gas and gas price manipulations crowning it all with an oil refinery blast in Texas City that left fifteen workers dead and scores of others injured (Law.com, January 3, 2011).
All these blunders and the punishments incurred upon seem not to have taught BP a lesson because the year 2010 is probably when the biggest of all its crimes happened. The year saw an erroneous refinery equipment allow thousands of pounds of chemicals containing cancer-causing chemicals leak out for forty days with the residents and workers not aware. In the same year, its oil well at Macondo exploded in the Gulf of Mexico leaving behind eleven workers dead and a record breaking marine oil spill.
Apparently, BP is not alone in the world of corporate crime. The American International Group plunged the world into an economic recess in 2008 following its risky behavior in a delicate financial world. GlaxoSmithKline is also charged with the manufacture of contaminated drugs (District of Maryland Court, November 9, 2010).
3. Following all these criminal activities by corporations or individuals linked to them, Congress has tightened its grip on meting justice to the offended. Its reaction has been characterized by the passing of numerous Acts that provide a legal framework to folly in the wake of such behaviors for example the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enhancement Act of 1989 that was preceded by a loans and savings crisis. In 2002, it went ahead to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 preceded by the Enron Corporation scandal. More recently in 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act following a financial melt down (Chief Executive.net, August 18, 2009).
Apart from these Acts, Congress has fined heavily corporations involved in criminal behaviors. BP paid a $21 million fine in the oil refinery blast of 2005. AIG was fined a $15 million civil penalty. These measures have minimal impact on the giant corporations that have so much money reserved for such fines and their reactionary nature help the victims in negligible levels as damage is already done (Townhall.com, 29 October 2002)..
4. Those in favor of the heavy fines ague that the companies should even not be allowed to continue business as usual in the wake of their criminal behaviors since they are the ones vested with the decision-making process that leads to such fatal blunders.
5. On the other hand, arguments against this criminalization of corporate behavior hold that punitive laws against them subject both the innocent and the guilty. Larry Thompson, former deputy attorney general added that regardless of whatever efforts to be put in complying with the set-up restrictions, big corporations would remain liable to criminal behavior.
6. Jack Kemp, a columnist in Townhall.com argues that, while executives who may be found guilty of a crime should be prosecuted, people should not be carried away by the criminalization of social behavior. He adds that the instances are rare and even when they occur the media amplifies them (Townhall.com, 29 October 2002). Kemp notes that the media is prone to exploitation by political opportunists who persuade the government to stop the corporate criminality by passing laws that are ill advised like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that subjects CEOs and chief financial officers to big fines and long prison terms.
Thornburg, in an interview with Chief Executive.net, asserts that if a corporate criminal conduct is linked to an individual, then the latter should be prosecuted in isolation without incriminating the whole company (Chief Executive.net, August 18, 2009). Even when the company is involved, he adds that the matter should be handled keenly since such instances are prone to political manipulations to favor people’s motives.
7. In the wake of self-proclaimed political and ill-advised human rights activists, the legal tussles between corporations are bound to increase. The media is not taking the matter lightly either. It is reporting the slightest malfunction of these companies with zeal and gusto making the public to pressurize lawmakers to pass punitive laws unnecessary.