Assault, robbery, murder, these are just a few of the focal stories that are included in news broadcasting each and every day. Our society and our criminal justice system are fixated on crimes like these. They can be seen as the bread and butter of law enforcement. Unfortunately, there are crimes that occur that are just as horrible, if not worse, that go unnoticed, ignored or covered up regularly. The contributors of these crimes that I am bringing to light are, white collar criminals.
White collar crime is defined as, “an illegal act or series of illegal acts committed by non-physical means and by concealment of guile, to obtain money or property, or to obtain business or personal advantage” (book). This definition covers all white collar crimes, including occupational crime and corporate crime.
Operational crime focuses employees of a business that steals from that business for personal gain. That could be as small as stealing paperclips and pens, all the way up to stealing large amounts of money from the company.
But, we are going to maintain our focus on corporate crimes. Corporate crimes are defined as a, “criminal activity on behalf of a business organization committed during the course of fulfilling the legitimate role of the corporation and in the name of corporate profit and growth” (book). Regularly, major corporations and the people who run them, take part in illegal actions in order to keep profits high, cost low and growth of that corporation on a steady incline. These illegal actions can vary in many ways.
Laundering money, environmental pollution, neglect of consumer safety and much more.
So, why is it that we don’t hear about these kinds of cases when we turn on the news? It’s not that it is rare or that it isn’t happening. It’s the simple fact that our criminal justice system and enforcers do not focus on these criminals like they do street criminals. Major corporations have been caught committing major crimes, yet they are still up, running and thriving. In order to show the realness of corporate crime and just how gruesome it can be, let’s focus on Ford Motor Company and their release of the Pinto in the early 70’s. Once this vivid reality has been painted for you, we will answer a single question. Why are white collar criminals treated more lenient than other criminals of similar crimes?
Its August of 1970 and Lee Lacocca has been appointed as the new president of Ford Motor Company. The economy is in a slump, so consumers cannot afford a whole lot. Lacocca knew that a cheap car was desperately needed from Ford in order to compete with the other major car producers, especially the Japanese that they felt would “capture the entire American subcompact market”. So Lacocca ordered for the Pinto to be produced and featured in the showrooms with 1971 models. For any car to be mass produced, machines are made and programed to constructs an assembly line. Building this assembly line in a factory alone takes a long time, so the short amount of time to have a car produced and released immediately made huge risks. Once the vehicle was made, tests were done and it was quickly observed that “eight of eleven Pintos had suffered potentially catastrophic gas tank ruptures on impact.
The fuel tanks of the three other cars had survived only because they’d been shielded from a set of studs that did the puncturing.’ This faulty design was simply due to the short time period and negligence of consumer safety because Lacocca was only interested in putting out a competing vehicle so that he and the company could profit and thrive from this poorly made car. To really allow you to understand just how great the negligence was on Lacocca and Fords part was, Lacocca made something called the “limit of 2,000”. What he meant by this is that the Pinto was to weigh under 2,000 pounds and the cost must be under $2,000. So if designers were to want to include something that would help with the safety of the vehicle but it was costly or heavy, it was thrown out. The short amount of time led to many more issues that would enrage any decent human being, death.
A Ford engineer commented that ‘this company is run by salesmen, not engineers; so the priority is styling, not safety.’ As mentioned, the tests of the Ford Pinto showed that an accident involving the rear end of the car often created an explosion due to the gas tank being placed in the rear. Sadly, that is exactly what happened to consumers who bought into Fords Pinto. “0n August 10, 1978, three teenage girls driving in a Ford Pinto were hit from behind on Highway 33 in northern Indiana. Within moments their car burst into flames and Lyn Ulrich, 16 and her cousin Donna Ulrich, 18, were burned to death. Eight hours later, Lyn’s 18-year-old sister, Judy, who had third degree burns over 95 percent of her body, also died”(Maakestad). This was one of many accidents with results that were extremely costly in terms of human lives and well being. But, Ford already knew what could happen, didn’t they? Those tests made that obvious, but profit and money kept the vehicle on the quick track to the public and now its showing to be a deadly, negligent choice to continue on with. So what was Fords excuse?
Well, they justified it this way, “Ford rounded off the value of a human life established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to $200,000, and determined that the cost to strengthen gas tank integrity outweighed the cost of the deaths and injuries resulting from not making these improvements. Ford fought to protect profits at the expense of human life, which they valued at a mere $200,000”(Hartley). Are, you kidding me? As a father, if someone told me my daughter was only valued at $200,000, you’d have some issues coming from me. In fact, for a corporation as large as Ford to even put any number on a human life is disgusting. They felt that they already invested so much into the the production line of the pinto and the materials that changing anything for safety was not worth it because their profits from the car as was were so high. They cared about their pockets more than the lives of the ones who ultimately fill those pockets. So where is this all leading? I took the thought of this happening to me or my family and became enraged, so what about those who were actually victims to this CRIME?!
After breaking all of the facts down, its easy for most of us to see that the negligence by Ford in manufacturing the Pinto and is design flaws that were well know were directly corresponding with the death to many. This ignorance was for the sake of profit and corporation gain, so where are the charges? Well, between 1971 and 1978, the Pinto was found to be responsible for several fire related deaths from the gas tank location. In a sworn testimony by Ford engineers, “95 percent of the fatalities would have survived if Ford had located the fuel tank over the axle”, as they did on other Ford vehicles. From all the tragedies caused by the Pinto, “fifty lawsuits were brought against Ford in connection with rear-end accidents in the Pinto. In the Richard Grimshaw case, in addition to awarding over $3 million in compensatory damages to the victims of a Pinto crash, the jury awarded a landmark $125 million in punitive damages against Ford.
The judge reduced punitive damages to 3.5 million.” Money, that’s all that they have to do to put this all behind them and start manufacturing their other vehicles and continue business. I personally would want Lacocca and others in Ford to be held criminally responsible for the homicides that they were responsible for. Unfortunately, even though chargers were brought against Ford and charged them with criminal homicide, the result did not end up like most would have hoped or what would have been just. “The judge in the case advised jurors that Ford should be convicted if it had clearly disregarded the harm that might result from its actions, and that disregard represented a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct. On March 13, 1980, the jury found Ford not guilty of criminal homicide.” Ford and Lacocca were able to produce this drivable bomb and sell it to the public while being fully aware of how many dangers it carried with it but, carried on so that they could compete with other car manufactures and collect the profits for the corporation’s benefit.
We were able to see that they prioritized profit over human lives and only valued a human life at a mere $200,000. From there, we saw that chargers were brought against them but the only ones that stuck were monetary punishments which in the law scheme of things, made little difference to Ford because they were still one of the top industries in the world today. Business carried on, they paid their way out of the Pinto and moved on without anyone being criminal liable for the homicides that were directly correlated to the negligence of the Ford powerhouse. Today, we constantly see recalls on vehicles but not until after tragedy has struck. It goes to show that these big corporations are still doing very irresponsible things and making negligent choices in order to make a profit for themselves or the corporations and nothing is ever going to change until we start holding more of these leaders and decision makers criminally responsible for outcomes of their negligence to other human lives.