In civilized society we have laws and for those who break the laws, the penalties can be harsh. Consider for a moment a shoplifter. Granted, they did something wrong and they should face punishment. If they stole something of sufficient value (I believe that amount is $1000) it becomes a felony offense and they can be sent to jail for it, and in most cases would receive a substantial fine, often way in excessive of the value of what they stole. The store they stole from can also sue them for compensation in excess of the value of what they took. While there may be some who agree that these punishments are just, the true punishment goes a lot further. I am going to leave out the details, but a close friend of mine was arrested for a felony offense (not shoplifting) that was later reduced to a misdemeanor after full investigations were made. They were eventually given a fine and probation. Did she get off light? Well, the real punishment was that she was fired from her job and she could not get another job even though she no longer had a felony on her record. She lost her home and her kids were taken away from her for a while because of all of the things that were going on. Her life was totally ruined at that point and she still struggles to get herself back on a stable footing.
Now letís look at what happens when corporations do similar things. Basically nothing. We heard about the latest yesterday. A German court found Google guilty of stealing. The fine - about $189,225. Now donít even start to say that this is different than shoplifting. Google stole data. I know about data theft. People steal the books that I wrote every day and that is lost revenue to me. One of my books was available for free download even before it was published. Data has value and corporations should be treated the same way as individuals. They should be made to pay a fine that hurts the same way it would hurt an individual and there should be an equivalent of going to prison for a company. Maybe the sentence should be served by someone or the responsible team in a company. And they should never be allowed to pay the fine and not admit wrong doing, neither should they be allowed to have insurance cover the bill. They should be held accountable for their actions and the corporation should be responsible for the culture they create in their company that would lead employees to do those kinds of things.
If we consider a person on minimum wage ($7.25 an hour in the US - federal) who stole something of immeasurable value, they should be fined 24 cents. That would be equivalent to the Google fine. That is how out of whack corporate governance and punishment are. I will leave you to decide if the fine was appropriate for a minimum wage worker or for Google.
Should we make corporations accountable by directing our buying decisions away from those that do not have good ethics or corporate governance?Brian Bailey
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