Corrupt organizations are ones in which dishonest, criminal, or unethical behavior is not only accepted but is an important component of the day-to-day workings of the organizations. Some organizations exist for fundamentally corrupt purposes (e.g., organized crime, youth gangs, terrorist organizations) while others are primarily devoted to legitimate pursuits but have embraced corrupt means as an essential part of their business model.
It is easy to understand why members of an organized crime family or criminal gang go along with activities that violate laws and general social norms. If you object to committing crimes, you are unlikely to join or to remain in an organization whose main purpose is to commit crimes. It is harder to understand why individuals who have joined organizations whose main purpose is entirely legitimate (e.g., manufacturing cars) might be willing to participate in criminal or corrupt activities. Organizational commitment and loyalty appear to be the key here. Some people participate in organizational corruption solely to line their own pockets, but most of the participants in white-collar crimes or organizational frauds and corruption appear to break laws and social norms to help and protect their organization.
I discussed three types of cultures of organizations that succumb to criminality and corruption: (1) cutthroat cultures, (2) defensive cultures, and (3) anethical cultures. Strong pressure to perform, internal competition, and external threats can many lead members of otherwise legitimate organizations to embrace and to rationalize corrupt practices, especially if these practices seem necessary for the survival of the organization. Organizations that do not put undue pressures on their members to perform and that are not strongly threatened by their competitors can nevertheless become corrupt if they do not include ethical considerations as an important part of their decision making. Almost all organizations claim to support ethical values, but many give these values little more than lip service, and this makes them vulnerable to drifting in the direction of corruption.
Finally, I revisited the bad apples vs. bad barrels debate that was discussed in depth in Chapter 10. This debate is concerned with whether people corrupt organizations or organizations corrupt people. The most likely resolution of this debate is that both occur, perhaps at different times. Few legitimate organizations start as thoroughly corrupt, and there is probably some point where the decisions of a few formal or informal leaders (bad apples) push the organization in the direction of corruption. Once an organization becomes corrupted, a combination of ASA processes (they attract, select, and retain individuals who are more prone to accept corrupt behavior) and rationalization and socialization processes (i.e., redefining corruption behaviors as necessary, acceptable, and even laudable, shaping the norms of new members to accept and participate in corrupt actions) is likely to help maintain this level of corruption.