State complicity in the production of corporate crime

Tombs, Steve (2011). State complicity in the production of corporate crime. In: Gobert, James and Pascal, Ana-Maria eds. European Developments in Corporate Criminal Liability. Routledge Advances in Criminology. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 70–83.



There are a series of ways, some well recognised, others less so, in which states are complicit in the systematic, routine production of corporate crimes.

First, and most obviously, states are complicit in corporate crime production through their failures either to put into place more effective legal regimes, or to enforce adequately existing laws, or to respond effectively to violations of such laws, with respect to corporate activity. If all of this appears as complicity via omission, there is in fact a great deal of active work undertaken to maintain such omission – and this work will be explored.

Second, states are more actively complicit in their relationships with the corporate sector – as partners in economic activity, as out-sourcers and subcontractors, as purchasers of corporate goods and services – and thus in the production of illegal activities.

Third, and perhaps least recognised, is that once one departs from a view of state–corporate relations as characterised by externality, then it becomes clear that ‘the’ state – at its various levels – is implicated in the production of corporate crime through the complex inter-dependence of these apparently separate sets of entities. Some aspects of these intimate relationships are captured by the emerging concept of ‘state–corporate crime’, and the usefulness, and limitations, of this concept will be explored.

This paper considers each of these forms of state complicity in turn. As it does so, its empirical reference point is safety crimes in the UK. On the basis of this exploration of the role of states in the production of corporate crime, we seek to indicate a more realistic view both of the extent to which illegal and harmful corporate activities can be more effectively controlled, and of the limits upon such control efforts.

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