Offenders and Their Motives

The case studies show a very diverse group of perpetrators, including natural and legal persons, mafia groups, and elected and appointed officials at various levels of the state hierarchy. Further, some chapters indirectly point to the complicity of ordinary consumers, for example, their contribution to the production of electronic waste and consumption of animals, whether for their products or as food. What seems to connect these various actors are often their motives to engage in environmental crime. Pecuniary gain is the most common driver for criminal behaviour. Gains can thereby range from a few dozen to a few million dollars. The financial gain might be just enough to secure the survival of someone who engages in an environmental crime (e.g. an impoverished animal catcher in Latin America), or the financial gain might be substantial, albeit indirect, through the avoidance of costs that proper waste disposal incurs, securing the survival of a company. In many cases, environmental crime creates the income for lavish life styles and the ability to edge out economic competitors that ‘foolishly’ adhere to the law. Environmental crime, therefore, does not just entail environmental injustice but also social, economic, and ecologic injustice.

However, not all drivers are economic; in some cases (notably in the case of wildlife trafficking, Chap. 5) the motives are multifaceted and go beyond financial gains. For instance, religion and traditions might motivate the killing or abuse of animals. Finally, perpetrators do not even know that they are committing a crime. Tourists who bring products from rare species back home from their vacation might not think that these animals are protected by international treaties. This example also hints at the different levels at which offenders are aware of the consequences of their doing and feelings of guilt and responsibility. For instance, if environmental crime is widespread, as is the case in Italy’s ‘Land of Fires’ (Chap. 3) and in Kosovo where illegal logging is part of daily household heating (Chap. 7), individuals’ sense of wrongdoing might not be very well developed. Moreover, a lack of appreciation of the extent of damage that environmental crime causes will certainly facilitate engagement in environmentally harmful behaviour.

A fisherman who brings in another undocumented catch of a few tons might not think that his action contributes to the irreversible depletion of fish stocks.

Looking at the types of actors, their motives, and level of organization, we can identify specific groups. At the most basic level, individuals commit environmental crime either for minimal gains (or just survival) or because they are simply ignorant of relevant laws and regulations. In these cases, information campaigns and smaller administrative fines might suffice as deterrents. In the case of companies, the damage done and the profits reaped are much higher. Companies might collude with organized crime groups and/or with state officials to illegally dispose, for instance, large amounts of toxic waste. Depending on the extent of organization and damage done, administrative fines would have to be very high to serve as a deterrent. Prison sentences might be added. Very importantly, companies should be sentenced to pay appropriate restitution. Finally, as several case studies show, organized crime groups and corrupt state officials often facilitate and cover up environmental crime. For these actors, only lengthy prison sentences will work as deterrence. The illegal proceeds (profits and bribes) should be confiscated as well.

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