Victor E. Kappeler, Mark Blumberg and Gary W. Potter use the text The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice to dispel various crime myths. Crime myths usually consist of a criminal act or behaviour and the exaggerated law enforcement response to said behaviour. In chapter 7 corporate crime myths are examined and found to be unlike most others; the criminal act is underemphasized and there is almost a reluctance to pursue and punish the offender.
These myths protect the offender, the rich and powerful, the white collar criminal and lessen the possibility that the corporate criminal will be held accountable. The myths that are examined include the notion that street crimes are more damaging than corporate crimes, that since criminal intent is lacking the crimes are less serious and that current laws and government agencies are more than able to deal with white collar crime. On May 9, 1992, the Westray coal mine exploded killing 26men and catapulted this white collar crime to centre stage, and CBC was there.
The first myth downplays the economic and physical harm caused by corporate crime, directing attention to street-level crime which is felt is much more detrimental. Media emphasizes street crime in order to hide 2 important truths; first, there is futility in the criminal justice’s efforts to control and prevent violent and property crime; second, these crimes are not nearly as damaging as white collar crime.
According to Kappeler (2000) economic losses due corporate crime far surpasses those street crime losses, at a ratio of 17 to 1 or of 32 to 1. There is no UCR for corporate crime, and the last handbook on corporate crime was released in the 1970s, therefore the numbers used are going to be very general. It can be said that the economic losses are not directly accrued. Millions of victims take a small loss instead of one (very rich) victim getting massively hit.
Corporations kill, perhaps not with a butterfly knife across the throat, but just as deadly and with larger numbers. A dangerous product continued to be manufactured and sold, or an unsafe workplace or a lake polluted (due to illegal dumping), all can cause hundreds of thousands of deaths.
The notion is that in order for a crime to occur, the offender must have criminal intentions. The second myth Mens Rea (criminal intent) is often used to differentiate between street crimes and white collar crimes. Rapists and murderers must consciously intend to harm another person. Injuries and deaths incurred with corporate crime are said to be an unintended consequence. The lack of criminal intent may seem to justify the crime’s causalities. However more than just negligence and bureaucratic carelessness, conscious violation of the law (in the pursuit of profits, perhaps) makes white collar criminals killers.
Rather than admit wrongdoing or solve problems, corporations may use the labels ‘isolated incident’ or ‘accident.’ Even when the executives and managers encourage the dangerous working conditions, it may still be referred to as an isolated incident. Kappeler (2000) describes how 25 workers died in a fire in a chicken-processing plant, in North Carolina, because the exit doors were locked. The doors were locked, “to keep out insects and to keep employees from going outside for coffee breaks, or stealing chickens” (p.128).
Sexism, sexual harassment and racism can also create an environment conducive only to those perpetuating the injustices. Price-fixing, fraud, corporate lying such as false advertising, exceeding legal pollution levels and the defrauding of the government, are all common practices within white collar crime.
The third argument is that business is overregulated and the laws enacted to limit pollution, the quality of products and worker health and safety are unnecessary impedances. The American government declared ‘war on crime’ in the 80s however, in stark contrast to this war declaration, the funding for regulatory agencies has been slashed at least once by each of the past three presidents. As stated in Kappeler’s text, “the official response to corporate crime enforcement has been roughly the equivalent of a city experiencing a wave of homicides and firing homicide investigators to prevent interference with the exercise of free will.” (2000, 135). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has 4 million work environments and less than 3000 safety inspectors to “regulate” them. The corporations are key players in the writing of regulations that they must later abide by, often these regulations can benefit corporate objectives and the government interference is actually wanted.
The risk of sanctions is low thanks to a lack of people and resources and agencies entrenched in any number of conflicts of interest. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives 9000 complaints annually, one of these is referred for prosecution, trials which have been delayed for 20 years. If apprehension does occur and actual sanctions are applied they are weak at best. In the 1.5% of cases where the offender was found guilty, only 4% of offenders went to jail, serving an average 37 days.
The Westray Mine Disaster
On May 9, 1992 the Westray Mine exploded, a spark ignited a cloud of methane gas, killing 26 men. This was not an accident, rather, the consequence of white collar crime. Negligence, conscious decisions to ignore safety procedures, failure to comply with orders regarding violations, all caused this mine to explode. Nor was it unexpected, 2 months prior in a safety report of the mine, Mike Pinchï¿½ of the United Steelworkers of America wrote, “I strongly feel there will be someone killed in the near future” (O’Malley). A year prior, a Liberal MLA warned that Westray “is potentially one of the most dangerous in the world” (O’Malley).
Myth #1 – Corporate Crimes Cause Less Damage than Street Crime
The Westray mine received $12 million dollars from the provincial government and had a $100 million loan from the Bank of Nova Scotia, of which the federal government guaranteed 85% of it. After the explosion, Curragh Resources, the company who owned the mine, was forced to declare bankruptcy. The provincial government was never repaid the $12 million nor was the $85 million. What street crime can exceed these costs? With over $100 million in economic losses, 117 men out of work, 26 men killed, it seems that corporate crime’s damages are greater than street crime.
Myth #2 – Accident or Intentional?
The managers of the mine were well aware of the dangers that faced the miners. There had been frequent cave-ins, cautions of high levels of methane gas, the accumulation of ignitable coal dust, the instrument used to measure the level of methane gas was broken. (The Westray Mine Disaster Case, ï¿½ 2). In fact the mine had just been inspected and issued orders for the correction of the safety violations found. (The Westray Mine Disaster Case, ï¿½ 9). These orders were never carried out. In addition miner’s complaints regarding the safety of the mine were dismissed or responded to with threats of termination. This conscious disregard of safe procedures, proper functioning equipment, safe workplace and the law makes criminal intent apparent. What could be the consequences if safety is usurped by profits? The mining executives must have thought that perhaps an incident could occur, especially since 15 other incidents had occurred.
Myth #3 -The Governmental Regulatory Agencies in effect
The six year, $5 million dollar inquiry that followed the Westray disaster had Justice Peter Richard leading the quest to make sense of the tragedy. This inquiry was implemented solely because of the Westray disaster. This is a government agency that didn’t exist, therefore it can’t be said that current governmental agencies are sufficient.
The lack of sanctions was in effect here. 54 charges, including manslaughter, and criminal negligence causing death were laid against 2 of the managers and the company itself. The first trial was thrown out due to prosecutorial error; a trial date was set for the appeal but was decided against due to a lack of direct evidence. All criminal charges were dropped. The release of the report by Justice Richard resulted in the suspension of 3 government mining officials, one was later fired. Also the mining inspector who failed to ensure that Westray complied with the corrections ordered and his boss were fired. This occurred when the report was released, six years after the event.
Corporate crime certainly does pay well for white collar criminals. The lack of jail time may allow these crimes and criminals to avoid the front page news instead giving street crimes their usual spot.