Sunday, December 03, 2006

White Collar Crime Reporter 1

In Canada it is fashionable for Acccounting Companies like Ernest and Young, and KPMG to publish annual reports on corporate fraud, and the losses incurred through white collar crime.

Of course they focus on the employee theft and fraud, not real corporate fraud or true white collar crime, of which these same companies and their coprorate clients like Enron have been implicated.

They like the banks involved, CIBC, Royal Bank, pay a fine and go on their merry way. While ordinary folks charged with shoplifting, B&E, or other none violent property crimes go to jail.

Even in the recent rash of cases in the U.S. like Enron where corporate executives go to jail, these are rare occasions compared to the usual treatment corporate crime gets, which is little or no attention. Until they impact society as whole, as Enron did.

Want to be a corporate criminologist? 
Prepare for the cold winds of
academic Siberia.

The American Society of Criminology held its 50th Annual Meeting recently
in Washington, D.C. The program for the meeting lists 503 sessions. Fewer
than ten of those sessions dealt in any way with issues of white-collar
and corporate crime.

Laureen Snider, a Professor of Sociology at Queen's University in
Kingston, Ontario, Canada, attended the conference. She anticipated the
dearth of papers on corporate crime. The title of her paper: "The
Sociology of Corporate Crime: An Obituary."

Snider's point: while corporate crime itself might be increasing around
the globe, the study of corporate crime by academics has been declining
rapidly over the years.

If academics study in the field of white collar crime, they study not the
crimes committed by corporations, but crimes against corporations -- the
traditional white-collar crimes of theft, embezzlement and the like, plus
newly defined white-collar crimes such as "theft of time."

Instead of focusing on criminal pollution, or the manufacture of hazardous
pharmaceuticals that kill, or illegal union-busting by major corporations,
the few researchers studying white collar crime are looking at how
employees steal from employers.

"If, for example, you take too long on your coffee break, of if you surf
the net when you 'should' be looking at something that is directly
relevant to the employer's interest, you are guilty of the offense of
theft of time," Snider says. "You are stealing the employer's money by
taking their time."

This focus fits well with a power structure that rewards ideas supportive
of the corporate domination of society, while punishing those who would
question that domination.

Snider is one of the world's handful of corporate criminologists --
academics who focus primarily on the study of corporate crime. She is the
author of Bad Business: Corporate Crime in Canada (Nelson, 1993 and is the
editor, along with Frank Pearce, of Corporate Crime: Contemporary Debates
(University of Toronto Press, 1995).

Corporate criminologists like Snider tend to be found in out of the way
places, like Kingston, Ontario, Canada, or Adelaide, Australia, or
Scranton, Pennsylvania. For some reason, the big city major universities
in the United States find it inconvenient to put up with a corporate

David Friedrichs is a corporate criminologist who has settled in at the
University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

There, he has written Trusted Criminals: White Collar Crime In
Contemporary Society (Wadsworth Publishing, 1996), the most comprehensive
text book on the subject.

Corporate crime and violence inflicts far more damage on society than all
street crime combined? So why are Snider and Friedrichs in the tiny
minority of criminologists?

Friedrichs says the reasons are complex, but one reason is that there is
no broad-based social movement against corporate crime.
One major reason why corporate crime gets little attention from reporters,
academics and government officials has little to do with complexity, and
more to do with the simple reality of corporate power. Big corporations
have marinated our formerly independent institutions in corporate cash and

Why should reporters tackle tough issues of corporate power and crime when
such a foray might lead to loss of job, income and family support? Why
should an academics study corporate crime when government funding sources
send signals that such study is unwelcome? And why should a Justice
Department researcher propose to keep track of corporate crime statistics,
knowing that business politicians lurk in the hallways, waiting to make
life miserable?

Snider makes the obvious point that "certain ideas are much more
appealing" to the powerful ruling interests.

"The idea of corporate crime is one that is simply unappealing to business
elites," she says. "Ever since it was first invented by Edwin Sutherland,
the concept of white collar crime, and specifically corporate crime, has
been actively resisted. Corporations have certainly argued, if they have
had to face up to the idea at all, that corporate executives are not
criminals. We have reserved the concept of 'criminal' for people we think
are different from ourselves."

The result: our prisons are filled with the poor, the minorities and the

In law, as in modern corporate life, you get what you pay for.


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