Punytive Damages? World’s Biggest Corporate Fines

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Bad week for mega-corps. GlaxoSmithKline facing a $3 billion settlement for fraud (link) . Barclays hit with a $450 million penalty for manipulating interest rates (link).

But are these punishments proportional to the crime? After all, one company’s million-dollar fine is another corporation’s small change.

We’ve gathered and visualized the biggest corporate fines of the last seven years, not just as raw amounts, but also as a percentage of each company’s profits. That way you can see for yourself if the punishment was painful or puny…

See the visualization
See the data

These settlements are scattered and hard to find. So let us know if we missed any.

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Show Comments ( )

  • Andy Cotgreave (@aco

    I created an interactive version using Tableau, showing bars and reference lines (ie using length, *not area*, to encode size of the fine):

  • Marcello

    What i always wonder when i see this kind of fines levied on big companies is who really pay them: in a market where most of them work as a cartel or as a monopoly (i’m thinking telcos) raising fees and rates isn’t really a problem.
    How often a multi-million penalty simply turns into higher prices for end users?


  • Jacob Budin

    It’s a very interesting graph. One small problem: I believe AIG should be salmon-colored, not blue.

  • Maciek

    There is at least one typo: Samsung fine is 3% should be 12%

    • Alex, Editor

      Thanks for spotting. The size of the fine is the problem here, it should read $300m not $1.1b. Will get that fixed asap.


  • NotCompletelyUseless

    Hang on …

    this page: “as a percentage of each company’s profits”
    visualization page: “fine as % of income”

    Completely different meanings. Which is correct?

  • Larry Elford

    Thanks for the great info. I have a general question and it is this: “Do you have any idea or info on who benefitted from the monetary fines”? In other words, did some regulator KEEP the money, (like the securities commissions in Canada do when fines are collected) or do you know if the public is compensated.

    The reason I ask, is that when the regulators (or similar government or quasi government body) gets to keep the money, it can and does lead to pretend public protection, phoney fines, and greater riches for both the company and the regulator. Public loses.

    thanks again

    PS, Stealing a billion dollars a week in Canada explained here by a recovering stockbroker (any fines kept by the regulators)

  • mogl

    For all but Time-Warner, the fine is the darker color. Did you reverse that one accidentally?

  • apk

    How about Goldman? The SEC handed down a $550m fine for the Abacus/synthetic CDO transactions in 2010.

    Also, typo on Abbot Labs. Should be Abbott.

  • Ethan Hays

    So, I realize that I’m commenting on a blog that is, by definition, focused on data.

    Therefore, making a comment around correct spelling is probably a bit off-topic.

    That said:


    Clean it up.

    • Alex, Editor

      Hi Ethan, well spotted. However it was an intentional play on words, intended to reflect the ‘puny’ size of the fines.


      • Ethan Hays

        Wordplay! Fair enough.

  • Kaiser Franz Joseph

    Excellent visualization!

    But some (at least) one of the contextual information is wrong – if compared with the original data set. The deed BP was finded for was NOT from 1994-2007…

    This can happen but reduces the credibility of the vizualization – even more so as most people will remember the DeepWaterHorizon desaster.



    • Alex, Editor

      Hey, you’re right. Seems to have been a mixup in the design process, we’ll get it amended as soon as. Thanks for spotting!

  • Rodrigo

    Great visualization. I have one comment. The fines are posted as percent relative to the company’s yearly profit for the year it was levied. I think it would also be interesting to see the percentage of total profit during the years of the crime/fraud/evil-doing…


  • Laine Strutton

    Perhaps we have different sources of data, but Shell’s earnings in 2006 were 25.36-25.44 billion and not just over 26 billion, but I suppose when analyzing such an absurd profit that doesn’t make much difference. My main point was that I am not sure exactly which Niger Delta fine the Shell representation is referring to, but the well-known Wiwa settlement occurred in 2009, not 2000, and it was for $15.5 million, not $1.5 billion. This large discrepancy means the settlement was actually a mere .004% of annual earnings, not 6%. To put that in perspective, the Shell corporation earns about $2.5 million per hour, so they worked off the irreversible destruction of millions’ of farmers and fishermen’s land in just over 6 hours.

  • John

    I don’t know a lot about the other fines, but the Intel fine you described is incorrect. I think this may be because you are only looking at federal/governmental fines, rather than settlements or damages paid in private courts.

    With Intel, they paid approximately $1.3 billion to the EU for antitrust violations, plus $1.25 billion directly to AMD for damages associated with that case (the FTC kind of dropped the ball and didn’t fine them anything). In addition, they paid millions in legal fees.

    You need to look at more than just fines — the civil sides of these cases are often much more punitive.

    • Dan, Editor

      Hi John. I’ll look further into the Intel case and amend any errors, thanks for bringing this to our attention, it’s appreciated!


  • jlbriggs

    I have a really hard time understanding why you would choose to display this relatively straightforward information in such a cumbersome manner.

    There are any number of ways to visualize this that would be easy to understand, easy to compare, and easy to fit in a much smaller area.

    It is incredibly cumbersome trying to scroll up and down comparing values that are encoded as almost impossible to compare squares that are pages apart…

    I know everyone says bar charts are boring, but, what’s exciting about 3 pages of squares?
    A bar chart could be dressed up to keep the interest and the attractiveness without losing the ability to actually compare and learn from the data.

    • david

      Feel free to have a go at a new approach J. We tried bar charts but we couldn’t fit the contextual stories in.