As this week is my turn to do the blog presentation in class, I have decided to do my blog entry on my presentation topic! Obviously crime, but to be more specific, white collar crime. The term “white collar crime” was coined by Edwin Sutherland, and was his means of explaining crimes that were committed not because of factors like poverty and unemployment, but instead committed because of reasons that disrupts social organisation. Examples of such crimes include embezzlement, price fixing or collusion, and false advertising, among many others.
The difference between white collar crime and normal street crime is the people that commit them. In white collar crime, the criminals are those of a high and usually politically respected position. However, street crimes are committed by those of a low level in education, often in poverty and unemployed. Also, the monetary difference in both these types of crime are extreme. Eitzen (1986;426) states that in 1980, the Amrican business community lost $50 billion to white collar crime, as compared to $5 billion in all types of street crimes.
This shows that white collar crime is indeed extremely costly to businesses involved in both the government and private sector. However, the question that I want to ask is that, if white collar crime is so costly as compared to street crimes like petty theft, robbery, murder, and car jacking among others, why is it not being as severly handled? Everyday we hear of street criminals being punished for their deeds, but it is only rarely in Singaporean newspapers that we come across white collar criminals serving a heavy sentence.
So why the great inequality between the meting out of punishment to those who commit white collar crime versus those who commit street crime? I believe one reason is that white collar criminals are those that are extremely rich and therefore have the money to engage the best lawyers to fight their cases for them. This is an extreme disparity as compared to street criminals – people who resort to stealing to survive on a daily basis. They obviously do not have the money to hire good lawyers. For this reason, white collar criminals often get away with little more than a slap on the wrist while convicted street criminals have to serve long jail terms, coupled with heavy fines. Another reason behind it is that fact that there are often few strict governmental agencies to target white collar criminals. For example, in America they have the Environmental Pollution Agency as a sort of watchdog for pollution (also a type of white collar crime for big companies).
However, these sort of agencies are often used more for watchdog purposes than to really move in and take action upon the offending company. It is unlike the Singaporean model, where the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) under the Singapore Police Force functions as both the watchdog and the agency that takes control and delves deeper into white collar crime. For example,in 2007, the CAD took on cases such as the National Kidney Foundation, David Rasif, and Mitsuo Oil. Finally, I think the most important reason why white collar crimes may be dealt with lightly might be because of the nature of the crime. For example, if accidental deaths occur because of a faulty nutritional product, it would be more tedious and difficult in putting the blame on a particular person’s shoulders.
Which member of the senior management would the blame be put on then? Also, if the government wishes to fine the company heavily, it might be a good option because of the fact that if the fine is heavy enough, the company’s accounts might be placed precariously into the red, and it may then be forced to lay off large groups of workers. This would not make economic sense to neither the state nor the company. In fact, there seems to be a vested interest behind it – that the government would rather the company pay compensation to the victims and be done with the case instead of making them pay both the heavy fine and compensation.
Therefore to conclude, while white collar crime is extremely detrimental, and may be more so, especiall morally, than street crimes, the reasons why white collar criminals are not as severely punished may be the reason that they will always be more politically and economically influential. It is because of this that sometimes the state views punishing the white collar crime committing criminals or companies as having a more detrimental overall effect on society then the committing of the crime itself.