This essay is going to discuss white collar criminality. It will explain what is understood under this term, give examples of these crimes and theories that aim to explain this phenomenon. It will first start of examples of this kind of crime and dividing it into two groups; occupational and organisational. It will then be followed by Sutherland's approach to the subject, who was the first person who attempted to define what white collar crime is. His challenge to psychological explanation of crime will be presented and general impact his study have had on the understanding of white collar criminality.
Another theory presented in this essay will be general theory of crime developed by Gottfredson and Hirschi in 1990. After that there will be several points presented regarding general disagreement around white collar crime, among them the problem with defining this type of crime, its causes and problems in dealing with it. Generally speaking white collar crime is a crime which is considered by criminologists more dangerous than other crimes, however it is usually not that much acknowledged by members of the society. It can be divided into occupational and organisational crime.
The first one describes crimes committed by people during their employment in purpose of personal gain, and the other type describes corporate crimes committed for gain of the company and not necessarily individuals. Corporate crime refers for example to financial offences such as: illegal share dealing, mergers, takeovers, various forms of tax evasion, bribery and other forms of illegal accounting. It also refers to offences against consumers such as: illegal sales and marketing practises, the sale of unfit goods or the fraudulent safety testing of products.
The are also crimes against employees and employment protection such as: sexual and racial discrimination or violations of wage laws. The last type of corporate offences are environmental crimes such as: illegal emissions to air, water or land, and hazardous waste dumping (Nelken, 2007). It is very difficult to study white collar crime, because in many countries the information about white collar crimes is not included in the official statistics.
Most of the literature on white collar crime is American, but a lot of finding on this subject have been made by English scholars. The term white collar crime was defined by Edwin Sutherland as "a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation". Sutherland believed that criminal behaviour was learned from interpersonal interaction with others. He was the first who started analysing the problem of this kind of crime and suggested that white collar criminals poses different characteristics than normal street criminals.
He focused on misrepresentation in financial statements of corporations, manipulation in the stock exchange, commercial bribery, bribery of public officials directly or indirectly in order to secure favourable contracts and legislation, misrepresentation in advertising salesmanship, embezzlement and misapplication of funds, short weight and measures and misreading of commodities, tax fraud, and misapplication of funds in receivership and bankruptcies. He noticed that in the time when he became interested in this subject, less than two percent of prison population belonged to the upper class of the society.
He was interested in the relation between money, social status and the likelihood of going to jail for white collar crime compared to normal typical crimes. Since Sutherland made his observation about the number of prisoners who belong to the upper class, numbers of these criminals in prisons have increased, but even today it is still very visible that most people in jail belong to the poor part of the society. Despite the whole effort that Sutherland made to define white collar crime, the definition of this kind of crime is still broad and ambiguous.
Most of his work concentrated on separating street crime such as for example murder, theft or vandalism from white collar crime. Reason for street crimes, called also blue collar crimes are psychological, associational and structural, while on the other hand white collar criminals are educated, intelligent and confident. They are opportunists who know how to take advantage of their circumstances in order to increase financial profits. They are qualified to get jobs where they can access a lot of money and gain people's trust.
Most of them do not see themselves as criminals (Nelken, D. 2007). Sutherland was arguing that crime was present in every class of the society not only the lower one. He noticed that in 1930s psychological explanations of crime became more popular, people started to be interested in psychoanalysis, especially after publications of Sigmund Freud. Sutherland challenged psychoanalytic approach. In his unpublished paper from 1948 called "Crime and Corporations" he wrote: " Business leaders are capable, emotionally balanced, and in no sense pathological.
We have no reason to think that General Motors has an inferiority complex or that the Aluminium Company of America has a frustration-aggression complex or that U. S. Steel has an Oedipus complex, or that the Armour Company has a death wish or that Du Ponts desire to return to the womb. The assumption that an offender must have some pathological distortion of the intellect or the emotions seems to be absurd, and if it is absurd regarding the crimes of businessmen, it is equally absurd regarding the crimes of persons in the lower economic class" (Mannheim, 1965).
There is not much evidence to say that businessmen are "emotionally balanced", but psychological approaches cannot explain the problem of white collar crime, because this phenomenon is to widespread. As a challenge to medical explanations of crime Sutherland tried to develop general theory of crime. First he introduced his differential association theory which was based on social environment and values that individuals get from other people in their environment. He argued that deviance was a way of life that was passed from generation to generation.
Sutherland's work included ecological and transmission theory, symbolic interactionism and culture conflict (Peelo, M. and Soothil, K. 2005). As mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph he believed that criminal behaviour was learned. This notion was part of his social learning theory that he developed in order to explain individual and social groups' criminal behaviour. Although psychology was becoming more interested in influence that the environment had on individual's behaviour Sutherland's theory did not influence psychologists who were interested in explanation of crime (Hollin, C. 2002).