04/02/18
This is a relatively new area for criminologists (and politicians and police forces) because globalisation and therefore global crime has only really taken off in the last 30 years. There are several reasons why crime has become a global phenomenon. Air travel and tourism have become cheaper (therefore making it profitable and easier to smuggle illegal products like drugs) across borders; New information and digital communication technologies such as the internet, e-mail and the cheap availability of mobile burner phones have made it easier for international criminals and terrorists to communicate with one another and to set up, for example, illegal businesses such as porn sites which can be accessed via the internet in the West. However these sites are often situated in countries in Eastern Europe in which the law is weak with regard to policing pornography. Consequently the British government and police are virtually helpless when it comes to shutting down these sites. This is why the British government is currently trying to persuade the major internet service providers to censor these sites by making them unavailable to British users.
Another cause of globalisation is migration - war and conflict as well as unemployment and lack of opportunity for wealth acquisition in the developing world have always fueled global migration but in recent years this seems to have intensified. Global gangs have developed which trade in human misery in the form of people-trafficking and offer transport to a seemingly more affluent West at a cost of several thousand pounds. These people -trafficking gangs were first spotted in the 1980s when it was discovered that Chinese people from obscure poor provinces in China were paying huge sums of money to be smuggled into the UK via container trucks. Many died on-route. In the 1990s, Eastern European gangs became involved in trafficking. Their MO was to set up job agencies which claimed they could get these young women jobs as nannies and au pairs in Western countries in return for cash payments. However these gangs would drug and rape these women them, take their passports etc and put them to work against their will as prostitutes in brothels across Europe including the UK. Those who objected and who tried to escape were often murdered. The latest batch of people-trafficking gangs seem to be operating out of North Africa and the Middle East and you may have seen recent news stories about boats capsizing off the coast of Italy, Morocco and Libya and the drownings of hundreds of refugees (especially those fleeing the civil war in Syria). Again, the gangs take lots of money off these people. However these gangs seem to have adopted the strategy of abandoning the boats hundreds of miles from the Italian coast leaving the refugees to try and make their own way across the Mediterranean.

Business too has become very global in the last 30 years especially the world of finance capital. There is a global financial market now which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week which is completely digitalised which means money can be moved in seconds to bank accounts on the other side of the world. Consequently, this has made it easier for money generated by crime to be washed clean (known as money laundering) by investing it either in global banks situated in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands or the Cayman Islands,or in 'black property' (e.g. gangsters often build hotels which don't take any guests - drug money is then put through the hotel's 'books' under the pretence that it is money generated by the hotel and is then banked as hotel takings). Drug money may also be used to set up 'ghost' or shell companies that don't actually do or produce anything but which 'magically' make a profit that can be banked etc.
A number of observations can be made about this sort of global crime. First, it could not exist on the scale that it does without the cooperation of banks and the powerful bankers who run them. Consequently we are now seeing global gangsters (especially Russian ones) and drug barons (especially South American ones- ‘narcos’) working alongside legitimate businessmen and bankers as portrayed in the BBC series 'McMafia'. Marxist sociologists see these relationships as evidence that the powerful or upper-classes are more involved in the criminal world than the official crime statistics acknowledge. Second, this sort of activity could not go on without the knowledge of governments. It is believed by criminologists that there is no political will to pass international laws that seriously challenge global money laundering because political elites and officials in many countries around the world are corrupt. Recent CIA files leaked by Wikileaks indicate that the US government refers to Russia as a 'mafia state' and suggests President Putin has become extremely wealthy – possibly the richest man in the world- as a result of him turning a blind eye to his gangster friends. Italy has also been identified as another state in which gangs such as the Mafia and Camorra have a great deal of political influence. The Italian politician and ex-PM SiIvio Berlusconi is also thought to have dubious ties with organised crime and Putin. Does this sort of thing going on in the UK? Well, three British banks – the Nat West, RBS and HSBC - have recently been heavily fined by the US authorities for laundering drug money from Mexico and Colombia.

​​​​​​​Finally, another factor that has resulted in a Western demand for the products of global crime is the decision taken by many UK and US businesses to move their manufacturing operations to the developing world because costs are cheaper (taxes as well as sweatshop/child labour) and consequently they can generate higher profits. However, this had the effect of seriously increasing unemployment and economic depression in both the UK and USA and thus increasing the potential for localised crime. Here are two examples of how local crime might be shaped by globalisation.

Firstly, unemployment in both the USA and UK was low until the 1970s. Most people had jobs and consequently the crime rates were quite low. Most criminality was probably opportunistic - for example, burglars might see an open window and take the opportunity to break into someone's home through it, or a purse or wallet carelessly left lying around unattended might be taken by an opportunistic thief. However, the 1970s and 1980s saw a rise in mass unemployment in the UK - thousands of factories and businesses closed down especially in the North of the UK, partly because it was cheaper and more profitable to produce the same goods in the developing world. Long-term unemployment and in the case of younger people, ‘never-ever been employed unemployment’ became the norm. Unemployment was often accompanied by anxiety, disaffection, hostility, anger, envy, humiliation, depression, greivance and boredom - these 'states of mind' often led to some of those unemployed to look for alternative ways in which to spend their time or to forget about their predicament. This led to some sections of the unemployed taking up the use of hard drugs, particularly heroin. Consequently demand for heroin increased in the 1980s. (Ironically, demand for cocaine also increased in the UK in the 1980s especially among well-paid 'yuppies' who were looking for new sources of pleasure and thrills). Heroin addiction in the big British cities in the 1980s and 1990s became one of the main causes of local crime especially burglaries, car crime and muggings. For example, most crime in Leeds in 2018 is committed by a relatively small coterie of 100 or so heroin addicts. The USA also faced similar problems of unemployment, poverty and crime in big cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore (where the TV series 'The Wire' was set) - the drug of choice for the poor in these US cities was crack cocaine. Now, hopefully you will have spotted that heroin and cocaine are not produced here in the UK - likewise, crack cocaine is not produced in the USA. These are global drugs which leads to my second link between globalisation and crime.

In the developing world, war and poverty have led to some farmers having to abandon conventional crops. In Afghanistan and North West Pakistan, farmers were 'encouraged' by war-lords to plant opium poppies. In South America, similar economic pressures have 'forced' farmers to grow coca plants. For example, the decision by multinational companies in the 1970s such as Heinz, Coca-Cola and Pepsi to switch from using tin cans to aluminium cans decimated the tin industry of Bolivia and created massive unemployment in that country. Unemployed tin miners in Bolivia were forced back to the land to survive. Many turned to farming coca-leaves because this crop was worth more than, say, maize.
​​​​​​​If we follow the global path of the hard drugs consumed in both the USA and UK, we can trace the importance of global routes and gangs in bringing about crime in our own neighbourhoods. For example, opium poppies are cultivated in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the poppies are usually processed into pure heroin powder in Turkey; in Holland, the pure heroin is mixed with other substances to dilute it; it is then smuggled into the UK where it hits the streets of provincial cities like Leeds and contributes to burglary etc. Note too the diversity of the global gangs involved – Afghan warlords (and possibly terrorist organisations such as the Taliban which rely on the profits of the drug trade for funding), Turkish gangs, Dutch gangs and our own British drug barons who forge these global connections to ensure their overall control of the UK market. On the other side of the world, coca leaves are grown in Bolivia, turned into crack cocaine (mainly in Mexico) or cocaine (mainly in Colombia). The crack cocaine is then transported into the USA by Mexican cartels whilst Colombian cartels with the assistance of Jamaican Yardie gangs smuggle cocaine via drug mules or container ships into Europe. British gangs have established trading agreements with their South American and Jamaican counterparts. A disturbing by-product of this global drug trade are the thousands of deaths every year - these deaths include addicts but also the thousands of people killed in drug turf wars. (In Juarez, a city on the border between Mexico and the USA, nearly 15,000 people were murdered by drug cartels in 2011). The global drug trade is also extremely profitable. In 1989, the Colombian narco-kingpin, Pablo Escobar was estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $3 billion when his Medellin cartel controlled about 80 per cent of the global cocaine market. The Liverpudlian, Curtis Warren, Britain’s most notorious drug-trafficker is thought to be worth £200 million which puts him in the top-50 of the Times Rich List. In 2013, it was reported that most of his wealth was tied up in a global web of untraceable assets scattered across the world including Swiss bank accounts, a Turkish property venture and a gold mining operation in South Africa.

Crime consequently is no longer localised - it is what Dick Hobbs calls ‘glocal’- local crime such as burglary and mugging are the net result of a global drugs industry. For example, heroin addicts need to ‘earn’ a certain daily sum via crime to pay for their daily fix – seven days a week. If the local price of heroin rises because global law enforcement have seized tonnes of heroin coming into the UK or because they have disrupted illegal trade routes, then that local addict has to earn more by committing more crime.

Don't forget too that terrorism is increasingly a global crime. 7/7 is a good example of this - of the 50 people killed that day, 20 were neither British or Christian - supposedly the main target of those responsible. Many terrorist groups rely on other global crimes, particularly drugs, for funding. Furthermore, although fundamentalist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS are committed to a return to traditional or fundamentalist religious values, they rely on modern global media, especially the internet, to make their case and to radicalise and recruit young Muslims to their jihadi cause.

Finally, globalisation means we live in a very risky world compared with the past. Many of us, like it or not, whether we are in the UK or on holiday abroad, may be the target of global crime. You might be in a shopping centre in Kenya, leaving a hotel in Sharm-El-Sheik, sat on a bus in London or at your computer in your own bedroom are at risk from global criminals
. It is no longer just the local criminal that we need to worry about.