GlaxoSmithKline faces criminal investigation for allegations of bribery…are large enterprises untouchable?

GlaxoSmithKline faces criminal investigations…

In an era where large companies control the majority of the different markets, the potential for serious crimes within such organisations are an unmeasured quantity.
When a multi-billion pound company is guilty of wrongdoing, it is often on a massive level. So are the
punishments they receive working as a deterrent?

A recent example

In 2014, GlaxoSmithKline, the UK’s largest pharmaceutical company, has come under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office regarding its sales practice in China.

This stems from officials being arrested in China for allegedly bribing hospital officials and doctors. The case has now been taken up by the SFO as a result of a UK act which is in place to dissuade such crimes.

This legislation, the Bribery Act 2010, allows UK companies to be prosecuted for bribing foreign officials. It also gives the UK government the power to prosecute for “Failure of commercial organisations to prevent bribery.”

Do these big companies recover?

Government efforts to monitor and prosecute wrongful operations in multi-national corporations are often difficult to put into practice. This is because the amount of money each company earns is enormous. Large fines don’t work as a strong deterrent and a prison sentence can only punish individuals, who are replaceable.

Another allegation of malpractice abroad for GSK occurred in 2000/2001 for which they were eventually fined $3bn in 2012 – because of the aggressive manner in which they pushed an anti-depressant drug in the US market.

Their tactics included publishing in a misleading medical journal and bribing doctors with meals and spa days.
They received a penalty of $1bn in criminal fines and $2bn in civil fines.

Yet, GSK remains a multi-billion pound institution and are being investigated once again. Did the previous punishment send a strong enough message?

Fear of repercussions

It must be time to search for alternative punishment for corporate misdeeds, especially when a financial disincentive does not seem to work.

One suggestion is to completely ban companies from trading in a designated market place. If GSK had known they faced the threat of being banned from the US in 2012, they may have been more aware of the tactics being employed by their staff.

However, large corporations often provide jobs for many across the country. They pay higher rates of tax too. So if you exclude a company of such a size from your market then you are effectively removing their input into your economy.


Economies are held together by these companies and often have free rein because governments do not want to lose their money.

If they threaten to change their headquarters to another country, those in power sit up and listen. If they protest against proposed tax increases, prime ministers change their mind. When they get an unprecedented fine, they just make more money.

Large companies hold a lot of financial power. Whilst, this shouldn’t make them untouchable, clearly it does. It is of paramount importance this philosophy doesn’t spread to smaller organisations.

Anonymous bloggers causing defamation, harassment, bullying and other illegal activities…What do we need to do to eliminate the bad ones? Any current UK laws to stop them?

Cyber bullying and anonymous bloggers

Cyber bullying is defined as an action that ‘uses information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm another or others.’

Website browsing, discussion forums and other mobile technologies such as SMS text messaging are a part of everyday life. We have the freedom to voice our opinions and make positive or negative comments about different services or current affairs. This has also led to some users abusing the system with the purposeful intention of causing emotional hurt. The practice is becomingly increasingly common especially with the rise of social media platforms.

Crossing the Rubicon

So what are the parameters and where do we draw the line? Couldn’t giving a business a poor product review or any small comment you make, cause hurt?

The areas that constitute cyber bullying are comments that are deliberately hostile or intended to incite hatred, humiliation or other adverse reaction. This could be posting a message or starting a rumour through malicious gossip that aims to manipulate, provoke by intimidation, exert control, embarrass, cause shame or ruin, denigrate or wrongly discredit the person on the receiving end. Such action is usually repeated but this may not always be the case. An erroneous message could be posted on a site about another person’s professional activity, without substantiation, which could potentially harm the recipient’s career.

Stranger or Acquaintance

The perpetrator could be a person with whom the target is familiar or an anonymous stranger. He or she could solicit mass action from others to cause harm, known as a “digital pile-on”.

Cyber bullying can range from annoying an individual to serious provocation and threat. In a professional environment whereby a highly qualified person is at risk, it could ruin a career.

How can we filter abusive comment?

Many people may unintentionally cause distress to another – such as sending a tweet which carries an inappropriate reference and causes misunderstanding.

So how can we eliminate obvious harassment?

The abuse must be reported and taken seriously by the authorities. This may not necessarily be the police. It could involve reporting accusatory remarks to relevant professional bodies. Magazine owners or publishers might be one example when comments are posted online. Professional associations could be contacted about a false statement that could ruin an otherwise exemplary reputation.

Organisations should create specific statutes designed to address defamatory comments; they could make it illegal to post obscene remarks, threats, accusations or other immoral suggestions.

UK law

Although, within current UK law, there is no legal definition of cyber bullying, the following existing laws are applicable to cyber bullying:
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997
- Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
- Malicious Communications Act 1988
- Communications Act 2003
- Breach of the Peace (Scotland)
- Defamation Act 2013

Guidelines issued by The Crown Prosecution Service in Dec 2012 explain how cases of cyber bullying will be assessed under the current legislation.

In addition, The Defamation Act 2013 came into force on 1st January 2014.