Within and names of corporations and individuals

Within the book, Edwin Sutherland presents to us long and
crucial research he undertook about the criminal convictions of 70 of some of
America’s greatest corporations and 15 Utility companies with the outcome of
that research changing the way we think of white-collar
crime today and the study of it too. Sutherland defines ‘white collar crime’ as
“crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the
course of their occupation.” Sutherland initiated the first inquiry into the
area of criminal law covering the business sector which has led to increasing
attention over the last few years surrounding this type of crime. Sutherland
writes this book from a viewpoint of an observing scientist, not getting
involved or interacting yet studying and witnessing that actions of those
within the corporations and companies. Harvey W. Kushner once stated that the
book “shifted academic focus from crime in the streets to crime in the suites”
(1984).

Prior to the uncut version coming out in 1983, Sutherland
already had the first version of the book published in 1949, but under pressure
from Sutherland’s university and publisher, case histories and names of
corporations and individuals who had conducted in illegal activities had to be omitted
first. The first version of the book had mixed reactions with debates raging on
about how the book suggested that crime was a part of the fabric of society and that the data in it may make it
seem like the crimes committed by those who were upper and middle class are as regular as those committed by common
criminals. One other point was that the book had challenged the idea that a bad
upbringing, poor background, and other
presumptive ignorant handicaps are the right boxes to tick when identifying a
criminal.

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In the uncut version, Sutherland famously analysed 70 of biggest corporations that were all compiled in the 1930’s. Each corporation had at least one or more decisions
against them, in fact, 980 decisions were
held against the 70, although 201 decisions were excluded by Sutherland due to
them being patent and trademark violations. Some of these violations ranged
from financial fraud and violation of trust, unfair labour practices, misrepresenting in advertising, restraint of trade and other assorted criminal
activities. 2 of the firms named each had 50 decisions against them while a
major known company today GM (General Motors) ranked third in the list with
forty decisions to their name. Sutherland points out that repeated decisions
like these show makes them open to being labelled “habitual offenders”. Other big name
companies such as Paramount, Sears, Warner Brothers, Montgomery Ward and US
Steel etc show up repeatedly as violators. Sutherland names families as well
such as the Guggenheim family (owned American Smelting and Refining) who as
Sutherland states sought to undermine competitors by misrepresenting the
earnings of the smelters. The findings also reveal that about 30 corporations
of the 70 were “either illegal in their origins or began illegal activities
immediately after their origin”. This highlights
how much the book unveiled and how valuable the huge amount of raw data was and
still is for sociologists and criminologists alike. This was one of the methodologies
that Sutherland conducted in the making of the book, either pouring over
records himself or paying graduate students.

There are some criticisms of
the book by various sociologists and analysts. One criticism by Thomas Emerson
(1950), states that there are certain limitations in the methodology of the
analysis beginning with the data being all quantitative rather than a mix of
both quantitative and qualitative with these 70 corporations are already
subject to hundreds of regulations and are in control of thousands of employees
where surveys or interviews could have been carried out. Emerson goes on to say
Sutherland does not appreciate the safety that the law enforcement provides, yet
this seems like an attempt to propagandise against Sutherland’s work. Other
criticisms like this would be one from John Baker from the Heritage Foundation
who argued that “white collar crime derives from a socialist, anti-business
viewpoint” (2004), however, if implying white collar crime exists and trying to
combat it equates to anti-business than surely business would be worse.

The popularity of this book
demonstrates how influential and important the piece of work is as Sutherland,
who himself coined the term white-collar crime, inspired generations of scholarly
work with changing the ways we approach reasons for crime forever. It is a
foundation in social science and in white-collar crime with scholars constantly
referring back to it as it was the first of its kind in the study of criminal
sociology. Even though a large amount of research and work was put into the
book, Sutherland states that this barely “scratches” the surface of violations
in our major corporations, as it was only focused on in America, if this was
applied cross-continent in Europe or Asia who knows how many violations would
be found which begs the question of is there any large corporations that don’t
violate any laws or human rights?

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