“It is time the nation woke up and realized that it’s not the armed robbers or drug dealers who cause the most economic harm, it’s the white collar criminals… who harm us the most.” (Harry Markopolos)
A Brief History of Monstrous Corporate Crimes
Corporations have been around, on and off, for a few hundred years and some of the biggest ones have been causing major problems ever since they started. The first corporations were really extensions of the state. The British East India Company was set up in the year 1600 and had complete control of British trade with Asia. It was so powerful that it was in charge of collecting taxes and could manipulate prices. The people who ran the company were more interested in profits than in the welfare of the local population.
This contributed to the deaths of millions of people who starved during droughts in India. The English courts eventually found the company guilty of oppression, false imprisonment and various other offenses in Bengal. After the head of the company committed suicide, it was suggested that he had “acquired his fortune by such crimes that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat.” The authorities were so worried about this type of criminal activity that many corporations were banned, starting in 1720.(1)
The first generation of big American companies started in the 19th century with oil, banking, steel and railroads. The men in charge of these companies were known as robber barons due to the way they used deception, dishonesty, kidnappings, violence and murder to amass their fortunes and accumulate power.(2) As we will see, the practices of some corporations, particularly those that have operations in the developing world, have not improved as much as we might expect.
A group of corporate leaders, including senior personnel from Du Pont and J.P.Morgan, actually plotted to overthrow President Roosevelt in 1934 because he was introducing laws to stop the worst corporate behaviour.(3) During that period, many corporations, such as General Motors, ICI and Standard Oil of New Jersey, were supporting the fascists in Germany and Italy, and this support continued even after World War Two began. Corporations have repeatedly worked with mass murderers or repressive regimes. In 1967, leaders from some of the world’s most powerful corporations,