New UK Database Reveals Fines for Environmental and Safety Infringements Lag Far Behind Those for Competition and Financial Offenses

October 26, 2021

Penalties imposed by UK government regulators in environmental and safety cases trail far behind fines and settlements for financial and competition-related offenses. Nineteen companies have each paid competition or financial penalties of £100 million or more. But no company has paid that much solely for environmental or safety offenses, many of which carry no monetary penalties at all. 

These are among the revelations made possible by Violation Tracker UK, a new database of regulatory enforcement actions created by a team of UK and U.S. researchers led by the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First, a Washington, DC-based non-governmental organization which provides a similar research tool for the United States. 
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The UK database was released today and is free and open for public use at It combines the records of more than 40 regulatory agencies, usually back to 2010, and has more than 63,000 entries. 
“We hope that Violation Tracker UK will, like its U.S. counterpart, be helpful to a wide range of users, especially those seeking to reform corporate behavior,” said Good Jobs First Research Director Philip Mattera, who leads the work on the database. 
Violation Tracker UK allows users to quickly see which companies have been cited for short-changing workers’ wages, cheating consumers, harming the environment, or breaking the law in a variety of other ways. It aggregates official government data from regulators such as the Environment Agency, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Employment Tribunal. Each entry includes a link to the agency website or document from which the data was obtained. 
Using a proprietary matching system, Violation Tracker UK shows which of the individual penalties in the database were imposed on subsidiaries of large parent corporations. The holdings of more than 650 parents, including both publicly traded and privately held companies based in the UK or abroad, are captured. FTSE 100 companies and their subsidiaries account for more than one-quarter of the £11.9 billion in penalties documented in the database. 
Due mainly to a £991 million bribery settlement with the Serious Fraud Office last year, the parent company with the largest penalty total (just over £1 billion) is Airbus. It is followed by the now-defunct Nortel Networks, which in 2017 reached a settlement with The Pensions Regulator worth an estimated £1 billion. Next are Barclays (£515 million), Rolls-Royce (£510 million) and Lloyds Banking Group (£467 million). (See tables below for more details.)
Parent companies in the financial services sector account for £4.5 billion in penalties, followed by aerospace at £1.6 billion and telecommunications at £1.2 billion. 
The parent sector with the greatest number of cases is the utility business with 962 entries, most of which involve private water companies. One of those, United Utilities Group, has more cases (204) than any other company in the database, though many of its fines are small and total only £5 million. 
Violation Tracker UK enables users to search the data many ways: by corporate parent, by subsidiary name, by industry sector (including private equity), by regulatory agency, by broad or narrow categories of offenses, by size of penalty, by location of penalized facility, by headquarters nation — even by penalties occurring under each of the last four prime ministers. 
The broad offense categories are competition, consumer protection, employment, environment, financial and safety. Competition-related offenses account for the largest penalty total, £5.2 billion, reflecting major bribery cases brought by the Serious Fraud Office and major market manipulation cases brought by the Financial Conduct Authority. Financial offenses rank second, with £2.8 billion in total monetary penalties. Environmental and safety penalties lag far behind at £312 million and £413 million, respectively, reflecting the widespread use of cautions and notices without fines by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.
Violation Tracker UK’s parent universe includes companies headquartered in more than 30 countries. After the UK, the headquarters country accounting for the most monetary penalties is the United States. Its total of £1.4 billion comes mainly from big banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs. 
Violation Tracker UK has benefitted from the guidance of an advisory group led by Andy Agathangelou of the Transparency Task Force. Academic advisor Aneesh Raghunandan of the London School of Economics played a key role in planning the data collection effort. UK-based Anthony Kay Baggaley was the lead researcher. 
Good Jobs First, founded in 1998 and based in Washington, DC, is a non-profit, non-partisan resource center promoting government and corporate accountability.
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