CD16 - Globalisation and Crime

This section examines the relationship between globalisation and crime. Specifically, we will explore the ways in which globalisation has influenced the types of crimes that are committed, as well as the impact of globalisation on the policing of crime. Moreover, we will critically evaluate the notion that globalisation is a novel phenomenon. As we have previously discussed, globalisation refers to the ongoing process of creating an interconnected world, encompassing economic, cultural, social, and political spheres. Postmodernist sociologists argue that globalisation has led to a decline in the nation state, with the emergence of a more globalised community. This integration across the world has had significant implications for the nature of crime.


Held et al. have highlighted the emergence of transnational organised crime because of globalisation. Unlike traditional organised crime, which tends to be geographically specific, such as the Yakuza in Japan, the triads in China, or the mafia in Italy, these criminal groups are now spreading across the globe. They have set up enclaves in various parts of the world, including the UK, and their activities are increasingly evident in the media, particularly in the US. This growing phenomenon of transnational organised crime is highly lucrative, as Manuel Castells has estimated the annual worth of the global criminal economy to exceed $1 trillion, constituting a significant unregulated underground economy that transcends geographical boundaries.

Transnational organised crime groups have become increasingly sophisticated in their use of financial instruments and technology to engage in illegal activities. For example, the use of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, has eased illicit transactions by providing a secure and anonymous means of payment. Criminals have also taken advantage of the global nature of financial markets to engage in insider trading and other forms of financial fraud.

Furthermore, the economic benefits of globalisation have not been evenly distributed, with some countries and regions experiencing significant economic hardship and inequality. This has created fertile ground for the growth of criminal enterprises, particularly in developing countries where the rule of law may be weaker and corruption more prevalent.

The impact of financial crime on society can be significant, with the proceeds often being used to fund other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking and human trafficking. Additionally, tax evasion by corporations and wealthy individuals can have a detrimental effect on government revenue, limiting the ability of governments to fund public services and infrastructure.

In response to the globalisation of crime, international cooperation and coordination between law enforcement agencies has become increasingly important. This includes the sharing of intelligence, joint investigations and prosecutions, and the development of international legal frameworks to combat transnational crime. However, challenges remain in effectively addressing the globalisation of crime, particularly in areas where the rule of law is weak or where corruption is widespread.

The phenomenon of trafficking has seen an increase in various forms in recent years, such as arms trafficking, people trafficking, and modern slavery. Additionally, organ trafficking has also seen a rise, with an estimated 2,000 organs being trafficked each year in an underground economy. Individuals with monetary resources who are unable to access transplant lists or are unwilling to wait for legitimate organs may resort to obtaining organs through this illegal market. Notably, a sizeable portion of these illicit organs are sourced from condemned or executed criminals or individuals who have not authorized organ donation after their death. There have also been instances of organized live organ trafficking, where individuals living in severe poverty may sell a kidney, cornea, or another non-vital organ to the illegal market. Furthermore, sex trafficking, especially of women and children, has seen a concerning increase. Women and children may also be trafficked for purposes of modern slavery, such as forced labour in sweatshops or as domestic servants. There have been cases where individuals have been enslaved in private homes, where the owner holds onto their passport, does not provide them with compensation for their labour, and restricts their freedom. The globalization of trade and transportation has helped these nefarious activities, as it has become easier and quicker to transport individuals from one place to another. While there are border and passport controls in place, criminal enterprises are well-versed in exploiting loopholes and circumventing these measures. In cases of modern slavery, individuals may enter the country legally on a tourist or work visa but are then subjected to exploitation and abuse, with their passports confiscated and access to communication restricted.

Terrorism, as a phenomenon, has existed for centuries, but the advent of globalization has helped its expansion. Technological and communication advancements have supplied avenues for international terrorism and online radicalization to thrive. This means that individuals can now be radicalized within their own country, instead of being trained abroad and subsequently infiltrating their target country. The Paris bombings, for example, were conducted by Belgian citizens who were radicalized within Belgium, and not by individuals of Middle Eastern origin who were brought into the country for the attack. The ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the attack, is now capable of creating its own people within the country in which it intends to conduct its attacks.

Similarly, the drug trade, which has been in existence for centuries, has grown exponentially due to globalization. The cultivation of drugs in developing countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Afghanistan have become the only means of survival for many individuals. The ease of transport, communication, and money transfer, which have been helped by technological advancements, have made it easier for these drugs to be transported across the world to their target markets. It is estimated that the illegal drug trade generates over 300 billion dollars annually. Therefore, while terrorism and the drug trade are not new crimes, globalization has expanded and developed them, making them more profitable and accessible to criminal enterprises.

As previously mentioned, transnational organised crime has become a significant issue in the globalised world. According to Glenny, the mafia has emerged and expanded due to the deregulation of global markets and advancements in technology. Traditional organised crime groups such as the Italian Mafia and triads are no longer limited to a specific location, but rather have developed into transnational organisations with their leadership operating from various regions such as Japan, China, and Russia. This is largely facilitated by the ease of financial transfers across the world, allowing for the creation and expansion of these sophisticated transnational criminal systems.


In recent years, the phenomenon of cybercrime has emerged as a new form of criminal activity, owing to the advent of globalisation. Cybercrime is closely related to the use of computers, which have only been in widespread use for just over 25 years. This sets it apart from other crimes, such as drug trafficking and human trafficking, which have been around for much longer. There are several types of cybercrime, as identified by Wall, and these categories can sometimes overlap. The first category that Wall outlines is cyber deception and theft. This includes activities such as phishing, illegal downloads, identity theft, and personalised hacking. The latter refers to the act of hacking into an individual's personal data, such as credit card and bank details, rather than a larger institution or company. Other examples of cyber deception and theft include the more recent trend of catfishing, which involves creating a fake persona on social media or online dating platforms to defraud people of money or cause harm. It is worth noting that these categories are not always clearly defined and can overlap in practice.

The second category of cybercrime is pornography, specifically the illegal creation and distribution of pornographic material. It is important to note that legal pornographic content created by regulated companies is not considered a form of cybercrime. However, the distribution and consumption of illegal pornographic material, such as child pornography, has become a significant problem in the digital age. The anonymity afforded by the internet and computer networks has made it increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies to detect and prevent these crimes. Paedophiles use various techniques and tricks to share images and videos, and the existence of the untraceable "dark web" has further complicated the issue.

Another recent development in this area is the emergence of "revenge porn," a criminal act in the UK. This involves the uploading of sexually explicit images or videos of an individual without their consent or knowledge. This may include cases where the individual had consented to the creation of the content but did not agree to its distribution, or cases where they were recorded engaging in sexual activity without their consent. The proliferation of the internet has created opportunities for this type of crime to flourish. While revenge porn has only recently been made illegal in the UK, it remains a serious offense.

Another type of cybercrime is cyber trespass, which refers to unauthorized access or hacking. This type of cybercrime can be committed against individuals or corporations. For example, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and ransomware attacks where companies are threatened to pay a certain amount of money or lose access to their accounts. The infamous Ashley Madison hack is an example of a ransomware attack that exposed its members' data. Additionally, cyber trespass involves the spread of viruses, which can be disguised as seemingly legitimate emails from known organizations or individuals. To avoid such threats, it is important to verify the authenticity of the sender before clicking any links. Cyber trespass is considered illegal when hackers access systems without permission. However, there are white hat hackers, who are authorized to access systems to find and report security flaws, and this is not considered illegal since they have been given permission to do so.

Cyber violence is a distinct type of cybercrime, which may seem contradictory as it occurs in the virtual realm. Symbolic violence is the characteristic form of cyber violence, which includes instances such as cyberbullying, hate-based websites, and terrorist websites. Notably, cyber violence can result in tragic consequences, even if not physically present. For instance, a recent American case showcased how a girl goaded her partner to commit suicide using instant messaging and text messages. She was charged with negligent homicide and cyber violence, which is considered a criminal offense in the UK if cyberbullying leads to suicide or attempted suicide. However, prosecuting individuals for these crimes is challenging as laws tend to take a long time to adapt to technological advancements. Balancing freedom of speech and hate crime remains a challenge, as laws in the UK allow for freedom of speech, if individuals do not incite hatred towards a specific group. Targeting individuals or specific groups through websites is illegal, though prosecuting individuals is difficult. In summary, cyber violence is a new form of crime, whose incidence poses unique challenges in the contemporary world, where technological advancements have made it easier to target victims while complicating law enforcement efforts.


Globalization and its impact on crime is a topic of interest in sociology. Taylor discusses the rise in inequality that goes with globalization, highlighting how it creates new patterns of inequality. The beneficiaries of the process are typically the wealthy financial investors and transnational corporations, while the workers are often the losers. This perspective aligns with Marxist theory, which contends that the disadvantaged, both in developing and developed countries, face greater insecurity and relative deprivation. As a result, this sense of deprivation may contribute to criminal behaviour. With globalization, individuals now compare themselves to people in other countries, as opposed to only those in their own society or country. This comparative mindset is further exacerbated by the ubiquitous nature of reality television shows, such as "Keeping Up with The Kardashians" and "The Hills," which propagate a sense of relative deprivation. Even programs that one may not expect, such as "Selling Sunset," a real estate program, can create this sense of deprivation. When people feel deprived, they may resort to criminal activities to obtain what they perceive as their due.

Bauman, on the other hand, argues that globalization promotes growing individualism. In this context, individuals prioritize weighing the cost-benefit of their decisions and opting for the course of action that yields the highest rewards. While this may seem logical, it often overlooks the environmental impact or other moral considerations. Fast fashion is an excellent example of growing individualism, where people seek cheap clothing with little regard for its environmental and social implications. Companies like Primark and everything five capitalize on this trend. While people may be aware of the exploitation that takes place to produce fast fashion, they often do not engage with it, as it does not directly affect them. Thus, their consumer lifestyle inadvertently contributes to criminal activities, such as modern-day slavery.

Globalisation has had a significant impact on crime, as it has created new opportunities for individuals to engage in criminal activities. One of the ways in which globalisation has made it easier to commit crime is through the rise of cybercrime and transnational crime. With the advent of the internet, individuals can now conduct illegal activities online, such as purchasing illegal goods or services on the dark web. For instance, the Silk Road was a notorious website where individuals could buy a range of illegal items, including drugs, weapons, and even hire hitmen. The anonymity provided by the dark web has made it harder for law enforcement agencies to track and apprehend individuals involved in such activities.

Furthermore, the availability of non-illegal items on the dark web has also created more opportunities for individuals to commit crimes unknowingly. For example, the act of illegal downloading of copyrighted materials is a criminal offense, yet many people engage in it without realizing the implications. Therefore, globalization has created a new form of criminality, one that is not necessarily visible to the average person.

It is worth noting that the rise of cybercrime and transnational crime is not the only way in which globalization has contributed to crime. Globalization has also created new patterns of inequality, where the rich financial investors and transnational corporations’ benefit, while the working class and disadvantaged face greater insecurity and relative deprivation. As a result, people may turn to criminal activities to obtain what they feel they deserve but lack. Additionally, the consumer culture that has emerged because of globalization has led to a growing individualism, where individuals prioritize their own desires and benefits over the broader social and environmental impacts of their actions. The fast fashion industry is a prime example of this phenomenon, where consumers prioritize low prices and quick clothing over the ethical concerns surrounding labour conditions and modern slavery.

Beck highlights the concept of greater risk resulting from the process of globalization, which has created a state of growing instability. This phenomenon has led to individuals becoming increasingly risk conscious. The causes of this restlessness are often global in nature, making it challenging to identify the responsible parties. For instance, climate change has led to the belief of greater risk, and in a subsequent lecture, we will explore the concept of green crime. However, instances of terrorism and similar incidents make it difficult to pinpoint responsibility, thereby making it challenging to reach a sense of justice.

Moreover, Beck posits that the media has played a role in worsening this sense of risk. As discussed in an earlier lecture, the media has the power to ignite hatred towards certain groups, which can lead to racially motivated crimes. Following the September 11th attacks and the July 7th bombings, there was a 2000% surge in hate crimes against Muslims. Therefore, globalisation has created a sense of risk, which, when combined with a feeling of instability, can lead to individuals committing criminal activities such as hate crime or racially motivated crime, which they might not have engaged in previously.

Lash and Urry, have proposed the theory of disorganised capitalism, which is premised on the deregulation of international finance. As state controls over business and business finance are dismantled due to offshore registration of companies, offshore bank accounts, and other similar factors, corporations are enabled to operate in a transnational manner by moving manufacturing, waste disposal staff, and money to various parts of the world to augment their profits. For instance, Amazon has been exempted from paying corporation tax by the UK Government, which fears that Amazon may move its business from the UK, leading to higher unemployment. Following Brexit, many companies shifted their manufacturing from the UK to mainland Europe due to deregulation and the absence of trade agreements, which made profitability more challenging.

Furthermore, Taylor has also highlighted how this disorganised capitalism has resulted in greater job insecurity, lower social cohesion, and fewer employment opportunities, leading to increased crime rates due to deprivation.


While cybercrime may be an exception, most crimes that we are referring to, such as drug trafficking, people trafficking, and organ trafficking, have existed for centuries. Organised crime has been prevalent throughout history, and as people migrated to new countries, the crime followed them. The movement of Italian organised crime to America and the expansion of the Yakuza and triads into other countries are examples of this.

It is difficult to determine the impact of globalisation on crime due to its clandestine nature, and sociologists face obstacles in investigating transnational organised crime groups. These groups are highly dangerous, making it difficult for sociologists to gain access to them for research purposes. Consequently, the information available to sociologists is often limited and consists primarily of educated guesses, secondary sources such as newspaper articles, and memoirs of former members of organised crime.

The lack of primary data makes it challenging for sociologists to determine the extent to which globalisation has affected crime. Therefore, there is an argument that the significance of globalisation on crime may be exaggerated. Nevertheless, it is important to note that crime still tends to be routine low-level offences committed in local communities, despite the glamorisation of transnational organised crime groups.


Policing globalized crime poses several challenges. One of the key issues is that transnational crime is difficult to prosecute due to jurisdictional questions. For instance, drug trafficking often requires law enforcement officials to wait until traffickers exit international waters before acting because nation states lack jurisdiction in international waters. Cybercrime also presents a unique challenge as determining which jurisdiction should prosecute the perpetrator is often complicated. For example, if someone in Ontario, Canada hacks into a computer located in Norfolk, England, it is unclear whether the prosecution should take place in Canada or England.

In addition to jurisdictional issues, differing laws across nations can also make it difficult to prosecute crimes committed in one country in another country. Cultural differences also complicate matters, as what is acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in another. Moreover, legislative delays can prevent the law from keeping pace with the speed at which technology and globalization are advancing. For instance, creating a law to criminalize revenge porn took several years due to the lengthy process involved in raising the issue, debating the law, and passing it through multiple levels of government.

However, there are some positive developments. International cooperation has increased, with organizations such as Interpol and Europol working collaboratively to track and deal with transnational crime. There are also more international agreements, such as extradition, in which countries agree to send criminals back to the country where they committed their crimes for prosecution. Nevertheless, there are limits to extradition, such as when a country does not have the death penalty and is unwilling to extradite someone to a country where the death penalty is a possibility.

Globalization has also created greater awareness of issues such as modern slavery, people trafficking, and organ trafficking, leading to increased pressure to address these problems. While challenges remain, progress is being made in combating the international crimes that globalization has enabled.