Corporate Crime Explained

While the term corporate crime may often fit within the realm of white collar crime, it is often mislabeled as white collar crime. Corporate crime is, also, often defined as white collar crime when the two can be quite different in the eyes of the law. To understand what corporate crime is one also has to understand what white collar crime is. Both terms are just that, terms. Both encompass a wide range of different crimes and both are used to describe crimes that have been committed.

Perhaps the best definition for corporate crime is given by T. R. Young, “Corporate crime is those actions by corporate management and employees which harm workers, customers, competitors or communities” (n.d., p. 1). Young (n.d.) further explains four different types of corporate crime:

1. “Crimes against workers.” These can include labor law violations, unfair practices, hazardous working conditions, etc.

2. “Crimes against customers.” Fixed prices, false advertising, products that are dangerous or misrepresented, etc.

3. “Crimes against competitors.” Trade secret theft, spying on the other company, undercutting prices, patent and/or copyright violations, slander, etc.

4. “Crimes against the state/government processes.” Tax evasion, political influence/corruption for company benefit, etc. (p. 2).

Corporate crime crosses from criminal law into civil law into government regulation violations quite frequently.

The terminology of white collar crime was born in 1949 by Edwin H. Sutherland when he attempted to heighten attention to crimes being committed by those whose social position, due to their occupation, drew respect and status in the community. Up until Sutherland’s coined term, criminologists scarcely mentioned crimes committed by the elite in society. Criminologists took and later expanded Sutherland’s white collar crime term to “occupational crime” (Barlow, 1987, p. 243).

The term white collar crime is still more effectively used today than the category of occupational crime and one may ponder whether the term corporate crime has replaced occupational crime. Regardless, the distinction between white collar crime and corporate crime still needs to be drawn.

White collar crime is crime committed by an individual in the course of their occupation. Embezzlement, stealing from the company, is a good example of white collar crime. One individual steals something money, property, information – from the company. Corporate crime involves a conspiracy of persons involved in white collar crime using the company as the tool to commit crime.

The key to both terms is often the position held by the person committing the crime and the dollar amount involved. The clerk at the corner convenience store who steals out of the cash drawer will more often than not be charged with theft rather than embezzlement. Simple theft is not often included in the category of white collar crime or corporate crime. If the manager stole the money out of the bank deposit and took more money over a longer period of crime the charge of embezzlement would, more likely than not, be applied and the crime would be included in white collar crime, but not corporate crime. If the manager and the owner of the business agreed to misrepresent taxes or not claim certain income then the corporation has stolen from the government, thus corporate crime.

Barlow, Hugh D. Introduction to Criminology. 1987. Fourth Edition. Little, Brown & Co. Boston, MA.

Young, T. R. Socgrad Mini-Lectures Teaching Criminology: Part V Corporate Crime. N.D. Retrieved on 02/26/09 from