TOPIC 8: Occupational/corporate/green crime

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Occupational and corporate crime

  • Occupational crime = how/why people steal from companies/public in activities associated with jobs --> e.g. employee who claims false expenses from company/overcharges customers and keeps additional amount
  • Corporate crime = crime by corporations/businesses that has serious physical/economic impact on employees/consumers/public, motivated by desire to increase profits

Traditional Marxists:

  • Corporate crime dwarfs actual cost/impact of street crime/burglary
  • Most of corporate crime largely undetected - perpetrators able to escape severe justice
  • Members of CJS usually of ruling classes --> law reflects interests of ruling class, bourgeoisie less likely to be convicted
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Impact of occupational crime

  • Levy (1987) = 75% of all frauds on financial institutions by own employees
  • Employers reluctant to prosecute --> could attract negative publicity
  • Barclay and Tavares (1999) = theft by shop staff amounts to £350 million each year --> 25% of all retail losses
  • Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken = arrested for perverting course of justice, accepted hospitality at Ritz Hotel in return for asking questions in parliament
  • Jason Ditton (1977) = 
    • Carried out covert participant observation
    • Gained employment at bakery company --> uncovered petty thefts
    • Had to rely heavily on memory - wrote down observations as soon as possible
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Impact of corporate crime

Financial crime:

  • Slapper and Tombs (1999) =
    • Pension providers providing illegal/misleading advice to people investing in personal pensions - clients losing money, companies making vast profits
  • Insider dealing = shares in company bought by individuals who know that company is about to be subject of takeover bid - illegally use knowledge

Negligent crime:

  • Escape of poisonous gas from Bhopal chemical plant (1984) = killed more than 3000 people, permanent injury to 20,000
  • Impact = infertility, physical abnormalities in newborns etc.
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Corporate crime - an invisible issue

Marxists = public/policy makers pay very little attention to criminals who cause most damage to society:

  • Differences in power:
    - Laws are biased
    - Braithwaite (2000) = the way laws are defined/enforced are reflection of economic/political influence
  • Media representations of crime:
    - Tombs and Whyte (2003) = corporate crimes rarely considered newsworthy - crimes too complex/dull/no clear victims
    - Crime reported more as 'scandal'
  • Policing of corporate crime:
    - Braithwaite (2000) = business/finance tend to be controlled through 'regulation' rather than policing
    - Agencies developed by government to 'oversee' activities of companies - e.g. financial sector of Britain meant to be controlled by Bank of England 
  • Lack of research:
    - Tombs (2007) = British government spends effort in finding out how many 'crimes' committed through British Crime Survey - nothing similar attempted to find out extend of corporate crime
    - Hopkins (2002) = government become very active funding research into crimes against businesses
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Human rights and state crimes

War crimes

  • Punishable offences under international law
  • E.g. directing attacks against civilians, taking hostages etc.
  • Saddam Hussein tried/hanged as war criminal by Iraqi court
  • Problematic and controversial
  • War in Iraq = illegal because America and UK invaded Iraq without full UN support, Blair/Bush should be tried for war crimes


  • Mass murder of groups
  • E.g. organised campaign by Arabic Janjaweed militants employed by Sudanese government to attack Black Africans --> over 2 million Africans killed
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Globalisation and crime

  • 'Emergence of global economic/cultural system which incorporates people of world into single global society'
  • Giddens = national borders far less important than barriers between social groups - what happens in one society can quickly impact on other societies anywhere in world
  • United Nations Development programme (1999) = crimes increased as result of globalisation:
    • Dealing in illicit drugs
    • Violent crimes, e.g. terrorism
    • Corruption
    • Illegal trafficking in weapons/humans
  • Taylor (1999) = how has globalisation generated new forms of crime?:
    • Ability to move finance around world with limited controls - e.g. tax evasion
    • Cheap international transport/effective communication - allowed companies to shift production to countries with lowest production costs
  • Ruggiero (1996) = decline in employment encourages growth of small firms in Western Europe to avoid labour laws/operate outside formal economy
  • Michalowski and Kramer (1987) = modern transnational companies can practise policy of law evasion, e.g. setting up factories in countries that do not have pollution controls
  • Box (1983) = multinationals dump products illegal in industrialised countries onto undeveloped countries
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Organised and green crimes

  • Organised crime = e.g. drugs trade/human trafficking --> linked to money laundering, profits from crime illegally channel into legitimate organisations

Green crimes

  • South (2004):
    • Primary environmental crimes = currently legal, environmentalists argue they should be criminalised --> Walters (2008): GM crops allowed in UK because of commercial benefits
      • Thornton and Beckwith (2004) = 24,000 people die each year from air pollution, rarely enforced, max fine of £20,000
    • Environmental law breaking = already against the law, companies ignore, e.g. dumping of hazardous waste
      • Walters (2007) = British nuclear industry illegally disposed thousands of barrels of radioactive waste in seas around Channel Islands, 'lost' 30kgs of plutonium from Sellafield nuclear power station
      • Environmental Justice Foundation (2007) = up to 3.2 million cubic metres of timber sold in UK, stolen from Amazon rainforest
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Mass media and crime - 1

  • Stereotype/sensationalise deviant behaviour
  • Personal violent crime makes up 60% of space allocated to crime news in British newspapers - less than 20% of crimes reported to police
  • Newspapers show pictures of elderly as victims of violent attacks - least likely to be attacked in reality

Deviancy amplification

  • Stan Cohen's Mods and Rockers study:Stuart Hall = moral panics used by capitalists to divert attention from mismanagement of capitalism
    • 2 youth subcultures in 1960s
    • Disturbances between groups during bank holiday weekend in Clacton --> media exaggerated them into violent clashes
    • Police made more arrests, targeted anyone that looked like Mod/Rocker
    • Media made predictions of future clashes
  • Media exaggeration of muggings by black people = turned white working-class people against black people
  • Criticism of Marxism: very difficult to uncover evidence of collision between ruling class/police/media to purposely create moral panics
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Mass media and crime - 2

  • Moral panics do not reflect social/moral anxieties held by majority of society's members - simply the product of the desire fo journalists/editors to sell newspapers
  • Left realists = moral panics often based on reality - groups identified often very real threat to those living in inner city areas
  • Young and Lea = disagree with labelling theory --> portraying such crime as fantasy product of media is naive, such crime has serious negative outcomes for residents of inner-city areas
  • Richard Felson = media reporting reinforces certain fallacies about crime:
    • Class fallacy = media gives impression that middle classes are more likely to be victims, stats show that poor are most likely to be victims
    • Ingenuity fallacy = media gives impression that criminals are clever, crime is opportunistic --> done in spur of moment
    • Policy fallacy = media gives impression that police are more efficient than they really are
    • Dramatic fallacy = media focuses on most violent crimes, creating fear of crime

Moral panics today

  • Cohen's concepts = outdated
  • McRobbie and Thornton = society and the media moved on, 24-hour news coverage reduces potential for moral panics to evolve
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Explaining occupational and corporate crime - 1

Personality based explanations

  • Gross (1978) = studied successful businessmen in large companies - shared certain personality characteristics, e.g. ambition --> lead business people to engage in criminal behaviour

Differential association and subcultural theories

  • Sutherland = person more likely to commit crime if they receive excess of definitions favourable to violation of law over definitions unfavourable to violation of law
  • Views of co-workers/culture of organisation will determine likeliness of committing crime
  • Geis (1967) = price fixing agreements between companies - regular practice, new recruits routinely become involved as part of learning process

Emotion-based approaches

  • Portnoy (2003) = world of excitement/thrill-seeking in world of high finance - excitement valued by executives as are financial benefits
  • Punch (1996) = high finance is world of power struggles/ideological debate/intense political rivalry/manipulation of info buffeted by moral ambiguity
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Explaining occupational and corporate crime - 2

Labelling theory

  • Mars (1982) = blurred line between entrepreneuriality and flair/sharp practice and fraud
  • Label by employer will determine outcome of label - negative labels applied to certain groups
  • Legislation making activities legal/illegal 'fought over' by interest groups - resulting law will reflect interests of more powerful


  • Merton = situation where socially approved goals of society not available to substantial proportion of population if followed socially approved means of obtaining goals
  • Box (1983) = organisations turn to illegal methods of achieving goal of maximising profit if unable to achieve goals using socially approved methods
  • Punch (1996) = individuals who perceive themselves as failing may turn to various alternative modes of behaving, like occupational crime
  • Nelken (2002) = skeptical of anomie - fails to explain why some individuals/companies choose illegal responses and others legal
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Explaining occupational and corporate crime - 3

Marxist explanations

  • Capitalism causes crime - economic system based on competition/selfishness/greed
  • Socialised from early age into values - powerful able to use dominance to avoid having activities defined as illegal, will steal break law where it conflicts with interests
  • Box (1983) = points out success that powerful have had in promoting idea that corporate crime is less serious/harmful than violent street crime/burglary --> mystification, helped keep corporate crime minor object of study
  • Pearce (1976) = prosecutions against corporations/senior business people are rare - would be undermining belief that vast minority of crime carried out by working class
  • Slapper and Tombs (1999) = transnational companies routinely sell unsafe/pay low wages/provide dangerous working conditions, demonstrates that illegal/immoral practices normal under capitalism
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Evaluation of Marxist explanations of crime

  • If crime is caused by capitalism, why does crime exist in communist countries like China?
  • Carrabine et al (2004) = until collapse of Soviet Union, some of most dangerous/lowest paid work under communist regime 
  • Corruption also common in communist countries --> Western capitalist countries have strictest health and safety laws to protect workers/environment
  • Durkheim = crime is inevitable, regardless of economic system
  • Nelken (2002) = numerous laws controlling businesses in capitalist societies - Marxist perspective would suggest that power available to ruling class would limit legislation to minimum
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