Globalisation and Crime

The AQA Sociology Crime and Deviance Specification specifies that students must examine (among other things!) ‘globalisation and crime in contemporary society’.

Questions sociologists might ask about Globalisation and crime….

  1. How has globalisation affected crime in contemporary society?
  2. What are global crimes?
  3. What is the extent of global crime?
  4. What are the consequences of global crimes for individuals and society? (relating to crime control)
  5. Why has global crime increased? (It’s a reasonable assumption that it has as it’s relatively new on the specification, albeit 20 years out of date as is often the case with AQA A-level sociology).

You will need to be able to link your answers to these questions to other aspects of the Crime and Deviance Specification (when talking about consequences you might distinguish between effects on men and women, for example), and you need to be able to apply sociological perspectives.

Before we turn to looking at the relationship between globalisation and crime, it is worth reviewing the concept of globalisation, itself one of the most important concepts A-level sociology students need to know!

What is globalisation?

In short it’s the different regions across the world becoming increasingly interconnected resulting in increasing flows of the following:

  • economic globalisation means more global trade (the increasing movement of goods and services between countries) and more Transnational companies.
  • cultural globalisation means more communication between people and the intermixing of ideas, often resulting in ‘hybrid’ cultures.
  • There is also the increasing migration of people – for study, work, flight from wars (refugees) and (for the wealthy) holidays, which has elements of both cultural and economic globalisation.

Globalisation can be physical – the movement of people and objects across borders, as well as virtual – the increasing significance of the internet in our lives has really pushed globalisation forward.

There is thus also a ‘technological’ underpinning to globalisation – transport and communications technologies especially.

There is debate over whether globalisation is mainly a one way process from the West to the developing world, or more of a two way process; and a debate over whether it’s good (optimism) or bad (pessimism) and also those who believe it has been exaggerated, or in reverse, all of which you can apply to our coming discussion of the relationship between globalisation and crime!

For more information on Globalisation, check out my ‘Global Development and Globalisation‘ web page – there are several links which will allow you to explore the concept further!

What are Global Crimes?

There are different ways of classifying global crimes, but one way we can do this is as follows:

  • Trafficking – moving drugs, people and/ or weapons across international borders
  • Cyber Crimes – such as phising attacks, extortion and fraud
  • Financial crimes – such as tax evasion.
  • International terrorism
  • Most (if not all?) green crimes are also global in nature.

Some of the above global crimes are carried out by loan operators, some by organised criminal networks (some people consider ‘organised crime’ to be a category of crime in its own right), some by governments themselves (state crimes) and some my Corporations.

What is the extent of global crime?

Trafficking

The Global Financial Integrity Report on Transnational Crime estimates that the total global value of all trafficking is between $1.6 to $2.2 trillion, with drug trafficking making up the largest share, around 30% of this, with a global value of around $500 billion.

According to The United Nations 2021 Drug Report , globally in 2018 an estimated 269 million people had used a drug at least once in the previous year, equivalent to 5.4 per cent of the population. This is projected to rise by 11% to 299 people by 2030.

Most of the increase will be in developing countries, with high income countries projected to see falling numbers of drug users in the next decade.

Cyber Crime

Cyber Security Ventures estimates that Cyber Crime will cost the world $5 trillion in 2021, and estimates that cost will grow to $10.5 trillion by 2025.

NB you might want to be cautious with these statistics because I think the company which did the research sells cyber security protection, so it’s in their interests to exaggerate the risks!

Nonetheless this is something governments and companies take very seriously.

A couple of important aspects mentioned in the article are that RansomWare is one of the fastest growing types of cyber crime – where your computer is hacked and data frozen, only to be released when you have paid a ransom (this may not be too much of a hassle for an individual, but if companies or government agencies are victims this is a much bigger dea.

Also, a lot of cyber crime takes place in the Deep and Dark Web, thought to be several times greater than what we can see online (visible, accessible public networks), and that This is also related increasingly to drug trafficking – increasingly people buy and sell drugs via the deep and dark web.

Tax Havens and Tax Evasion

The IMF estimates that there are $ several trillions of dollars of Corporate Funds stashed away in tax havens, costing the tax payer from between $500 to $600 in lost tax revenue (so a similar financial cost to the value of drug crime).

Estimates for how much individual wealth (rather than Corporate wealth) are stashed in tax havens are more varied, given the secrecy surrounding these funds, but two estimates cited by the IMF are from between $8 trillion to more than $30 trillion, costing the taxpayer around $200 billion a year in lost revenue.

There is a conceptual problem with labelling the use of tax havens as ‘criminal’ – companies and individuals often use loopholes in the law to get their funds out of countries where they are taxed and into tax havens where they are not taxed, or taxed at a very low rate, so we have to use a broader definition of crime as something which is harmful (through lost tax revenue) to ensure we include the use of tax havens in our examples of global crime.

Global Terrorism

Trends in global terrorism are actually going down (so some rare good news!).

According to the Global Terrorism Index, in 2019 ‘only’ just under 14000 people died in global terror incidents, the fifth year of decline since a peak of 34500 deaths in 2014.

Most terrorism deaths are located in a small handful of war torn countries, mainly Afghanistan, where 40% of deaths from Terror attacks occur.

While terrorism is often very locally felt, many of the groups who claim responsibility for these attacks are responding to global dynamics and see themselves as part of a global network, so they are a response to globalisation.

How has globalisation affected crime in contemporary society?

This is one of the more complex questions we can ask in A-level sociology, and there are several possible ways we can break down our analysis, and a lot of interconnecting ideas where ever we start.

Below I’ve started with the concept of globalisation and considered how economic and cultural globalisation have opened up more opportunities for people and organisations to engage in certain types of crime and how the nature and extent of crime has changed as a result.

Economic globalisation and global crime

Economic globalisation refers to increasing amounts of global trade and money, the increasing role of Transnational Corporations, the spread of an international division of labour, and (importantly from a broadly Marxist point of view) increasing amounts of inequality between rich and poor regions around the world.

Increasing amounts of trade of goods across international borders and the fact that some countries tax certain goods, such as alcohol and cigarettes, have lead to increasing amounts of smuggling of such highly taxed products -organised criminal networks have emerged (e.g. think of the Mafia) who smuggle cigarettes and alcohol from countries where they are produced very cheaply to countries where they are taxed very highly, such as the UK – this is simple demand and supply, albeit illegal, and very common: there are plenty of poor people in the UK (for example) who want cheaper booze and fags, and plenty of poor people in developing countries who are willing to risk jail time to traffic non-taxed booze and fags to countries such as the UK.

The above also applies to the illegal trade in counterfeit goods, from clothes to electronics – all of these goods (as well as fags and booze) may present themselves as genuine, but in reality they are fake – but when there are so many containers of goods moving around the world (global trade is massive) there is significant opportunity for organised criminal networks to smuggle their cheaper counterfeit/ untaxed goods into shipping containers and get them to willing and often unwitting consumers in their destination countries.

Marxists are keen to point out that it’s not just criminal networks involved in global economic crime – so are many Transnational Corporations -it’s a bit more difficult to analyse the role of these in global crime as they are more likely to engage in ‘law evasion’ rather than actual crime – for example Shell extracting oil in Nigeria and taking advantage of the laxer pollution laws in that country, committing effectively no ‘crime’ by Nigerian standards, but an environmental crime nonetheless.

TNCs also engage in tax evasion as do many wealthy individuals by stashing their wealth in tax havens, again, not technically illegal, but harmful due to lost tax revenue.

Another way in which economic globalisation might fuel global crime is through increasing inequality – one rather horrible aspect of this is sex trafficking – there are plenty of men in developed countries looking for cheap prostitutes prepared to travel to countries such those in Eastern Europe to get what they want – and the young women they find there may well have been trafficked into sex-work on the promise of something else by organised criminal gangs – one of the darker sides of the global economy.

The supply of drugs from poorer countries to richer countries is another aspect of inequality fuelling this global trade.

Cultural globalisation and global crime

The increasing communications between cultures may have lead to more cultural clashes the world over, more ‘ordinary people’ coming into conflict with their more traditional political orders.

An obvious example of this is ‘liberated’ women in Iran posting pictures of themselves on Instagram and the State ‘cracking down on them‘, but there’s much more to it than this – radical interpretations of Islam have made their way to Britain and other European countries, shared and circulated online and contributed to various terror attacks over the last couple of decades.

However, it’s important not to exaggerate the extent to which exposure to new ideas results in ‘violent cultural clashes’, it’s quite possible that for the most part people online are just stuck in their bubbles (their social media bubbles, not meant here in the Pandemic sense of the word) and for the most part not inclined to criminal behaviour!

We could also point to the emergence of a set of ‘global human right’s outlined by the United Nations which proclaim that Nation States (governments) are not permitted to breach certain rights of individual citizens – making illegal at a global level things such as genocide, which opens up the possibilities of governments being held accountable as criminals, which couldn’t have happened before the UN HUMAN RIGHTS CONVENTION immediately after World War Two.

The Internet and Global Cyber Crime

The instantaneous connectivity through the internet deserves special mention in its own right in relation to global crime.

This probably more than ANYTHING else has changed the nature of crime across societies as it creates so many more opportunities for people anywhere in the world to commit crime and for people to be unwitting victims of crime.

It’s possible for one individual to send out literally millions of phishing emails or comments to millions of people in a single day in attempt to get them to click on a link which will (variably) try to elicit their personal information from them or get them to download some dodgy software which will collect their data from their computer.

The Deep Web and Dark Web also make it easier for people to trade in illegal goods and services online and to network and have conversations which may result in very serious criminal activities – think terrorist cells and child abuse rings – all made easier to maintain via the Dark Web.

What are the consequences of global crimes for individuals and society?

Here we really need to take a global development perspective and think of winners and losers at a global level.

Certainly global crime has created many losers from developing countries – anyone trafficked into the sex industry or any drug mules caught and sent to jail, and several migrants who have paid their life savings to then NOT be transported successfully to their destination countries.

But then again, you could see this as an opportunity – drugs are part of global trade – and there is more money to made in growing Cocaine than Coffee for some farmers in Colombia – possibly opening up better opportunities than ‘free trade as usual’ – NB not to say this will always be the case as being involved in the global drugs market probably isn’t that SAFE.

And it’s not necessarily the case that the consumers in the west are the winners – they may also be victims, of poor quality fags and booze for example.

Where cyber crime is concerned it’s more hidden – there are probably more victims alive today that DON’T know about it than ever before in human history.

Finally, global crime is a problem for governments – it takes a lot of resources and co-ordination to combat global crime, especially when so much of it is online and thus not visible.

And where some of more heinous crimes are concerned, this increases our sense of fear and vulnerability and uncertainty – such as with global terrorism.

Why has global crime increased?

It’s easy (lazy?) to see the increase of crime as an ‘inevitable’ response to Globalisation – with more flows of goods and people and ideas, SOME of that is going to be illegal.

There’s also an underlying technological change we need to consider – the internent does make crime easier.

But to answer this question with any analytical depth, you need to be able to apply the perspectives.

From a Marxist point of view this is due to the spread of Global Capitalism – creating more inequalities which results in inequities in supply and demand – plenty of poor people who can’t make decent money growing coffee would rather risk growing Cocaine, for example.

Another aspect of a Marxist analysis is the spread of TNCs engaged in law evasion and also tax evasion by elites.

Misha Glenny has researched the role of Organised criminal networks in facilitating the rise of Global Crime (the McMafia as he calls them) pointing out that the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s resulted in a massive increase in organised crime in countries such as Bulgaria – trafficking a lot of goods to Western Europe – here it’s not so much ‘legal capitalism’ which is the problem, rather criminal gangs operating outside the law in several countries.

You can also apply Feminism in order to help understand sex trafficking in particular.

Interactionism is also relevant because changes in international law, and national laws can criminalise acts and thus ‘increase’ global crime overnight – the United Nations Human Rights Conventions did this with State crimes, for example. And the same thing is happening with many green or enviromental crimes.

Not to say that these legal changes are bad, but they do increase the amount of crime simply by making acts illegal that previously were not, such as genocide and several forms of pollution.

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