By Ian Ferguson
All companies, large and small, suffer their share of corruption and criminal behaviour. As diligent as we sometimes are in implementing processes to eradicate loopholes, the criminal element still seems to thrive, and people find the need and opportunity to advance their own causes in committing corporate crimes.
Corporate crime, also called white-collar crime, refers to criminal offenses that are committed by persons during the course of legitimate business activities. These crimes are often non-violent and involve offenses ranging from money laundering to fraud. The principals and directors of companies can be charged with corporate crimes, and the company itself can be held liable for acts committed in violation of local laws.
Employees, too, may commit crimes, often without the knowledge of the owners or principals of the business. Corporate crimes are those unethical and unlawful acts committed either by a company, or by individuals acting on behalf of it or other business entities.
The term ‘white collar’ is often associated with professional workers in office-like environments, 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 they commit in business settings do not often involve crimes of violence, such as murder, rape or armed assault. Those who commit white collar crimes commit non- violent crimes, involving unethical activities.
Some of these unlawful acts include:
- Theft - Stealing or removing the property of another without their permission. For example, using a client’s funds without their knowledge or permission, even for brief periods of time, to settle debts or gain interest.
- Extortion - Abusing your authority in order to obtain money.
- Fraud - Deceiving or tricking another individual (within or outside the company) for personal gain or to advance the firm.
- Forgery - Writing or altering someone’s signature or name.
- Bribery - An act of giving money or gift giving that alters the behaviour of the recipient.
Why are we so challenged? Why doth the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing? Why are there so many who seem to fall prey to corporate crimes (whether detected or not) and, more critically, why are we so prepared to turn a blind eye to this type of criminal activity? Perhaps
some of these statements provide answers to these vexing questions:
- In the midst of a rise in violent criminal activity, less attention seems to be placed on white collar crime.
- Ours is a sheltered society where we tend to protect the successful, affluent and accomplished among us. We opt not to take bread out of people’s mouths, and would much rather prosecute the ‘riff raff’ in society.
- The fear of victimisation still reigns in many pockets of our society, and people honestly fear losing their jobs for exposing wrong doing.
- People are labelled by their association, and a reporting of corporate crimes sometimes places persons under suspicion of being an accessory to the crime.
- So many work environments fail, through their on-boarding and training resources, to provide information to team members regarding what is unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. In the absence of standards or communication of those standards, employees run amok.
Corruption at work causes tension among employees, and can greatly reduce the effectiveness of teamwork. It affects one’s pay, opportunities for promotions, staff morale and overall feeling of loyalty towards the employer. While not an easy problem to solve by any means, it is one that can be reduced. Companies must begin by increasing employment screening, which can significantly reduce the number of people hired with the tendency to be corrupt.
NB: Ian R. Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having worked in both the public and private sector locally and regionally, providing interventions and solutions for promoting business and service excellence. He was educated at the College of the Bahamas, the University of the West Indies, St. Johns University and holds a Masters of Science Degree from the University of Miami.