Over the last ten years or so, green criminology has become an increasingly important theme at the Criminology Department of the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Not only it is an important teaching topic, but it has also been widely used as an overarching approach to develop empirical research aiming at raising awareness and improving public policies.
Green criminology at EUR is studied in the realm of geopolitical inequality, and corporate and organised crime. This counts both for the way it is embedded in our teaching and in our research agenda. The two master’s programmes in criminology at EUR (1) start with a module on Globalisation, Digitalisation and Crime, in which themes like global inequality, poverty and human rights play a central role. This also sets the framework for the study of green criminology - with a focus on deforestation. Subsequently, environmental crime is one of the three cases students in the modules Corporate & White-Collar Crime & Governance (Dieselgate (2) ) and Organised Crime & Governance (wildlife trafficking) study in groups, and on which they write a policy advice. Green criminological topics are also quite popular as graduation research projects for master’s students.
Within the Erasmus School of Law, the Department of Law & Economics (notably in the person of Michael Faure) is, next to the Criminology Department, also engaged in this field, with studies on the relation between money laundering and environmental harm and on environmental criminal liability. With the Erasmus Initiative on Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity (to which criminologists Lieselot Bisschop and Abby Onencan are also affiliated), the EUR’s Executive Board actively supports research on sustainability and the control of environmental harm as well.
Lieselot Bisschop investigates corporate crime and environmental harm and the sometimes thin line between them. In 2017, (with co-authors Staci Strobl and Julie Viollaz) she received the Outstanding Article Award from The American Society of Criminology’s Division of Corporate and White-Collar Crime for her work on the corporate and state responsibility for the disappearance of coastal land in the Louisiana Bayou (3).
Much of her recent work, mostly together with Abby Onencan and Sammie Verbeek, is on PFAS. These per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances consist of a range of over 4700 human-made chemicals which are used in cookware, jackets, firefighting foam, food wrappings, cosmetics, medical devices and many more products. Since the 1930s, PFAS have persisted and accumulated in every living being and ecosystem. These synthetic chemical substances have been widely used throughout society, and are easily transported in the environment, thus polluting soil, water and air. They resist degradation, resulting in unprecedented persistence into the environment and in any living species.
In her master’s thesis, which received the second prize for the best dissertation of 2022 by the Netherlands’ Society of Criminology, Sammie Verbeek studied the PFOA scandal of the DuPont factory in Dordrecht (near Rotterdam). She examined which harmful emissions of chemical perfluorooctanoic acid took place between 1965 and 2012 in this DuPont plant, and how these harms were experienced by victims. She used a rich theoretical framework, bringing green criminology together with cultural criminological and victimological perspectives, as well as proposing the use of the concept of state-corporate crime, thus creating one cohesive, overarching framework.
Based on a case study of Chemours DuPont Dordrecht, an ongoing interdisciplinary study at Erasmus University Rotterdam combines approaches from green and state-corporate criminology, environmental philosophy, and public health to examine the historical and contemporary drivers and dynamics of industrial environmental harm. On 17 March 2023,Lieselot Bisschop held her inaugural address as a full professor, entitled, In Whose Interest? Public-Private Interactions in the Governance of Social Harm, also on this subject.
Abby Onencan was recipient of the 2022 EUR Open and Responsible Science Award in the Societal Engagement category for her study on the improvement of risk governance at a salt mine near the Ukrainian village of Solotvyno. For this ‘ImProDiReT’ project, she has collected risk analysis geodata to evaluate environmental risks and support decision making (4).
Tim Boekhout van Solinge is probably the expert on deforestation in the Netherlands, conducting fieldwork mainly in Indonesia and in the Brazilian Amazon. His research on mining, Dutch investments in the Amazon, and about deforestation for the soy industry has been widely covered in the media as well. Next to his affiliation with EUR, he is an independent consultant for e.g. the United Nations, and leads the ‘Forest Forces Opens Extern’ foundation, which focuses on practical applications of criminology on forest crime hotspots in the Brazilian Amazon. There, he has been working closely together with indigenous communities. as well as with the Brazilian Public Prosecution Service.
On 9 December 2022, Karin van Wingerde held her inaugural address as a professor of Corporate Crime and Governance at EUR on Social control as crime: Responsiveness, reflexivity and tripartism in the governance of corporate harms. Her research also is a good reflection of EUR’s green criminological agenda: it is concerned with the question of how governments, businesses, and civil society groups interact in dealing with the harmful consequences of economic activities. She argues that, in the governance of business activities, certain public interests seem to be systematically overlooked, neglected and sometimes even harmed. This is not so much the result of ‘bad’ business, ‘bad’ government or a ‘weak’ civil society, but rather the result of the ways in which, in many Western countries, the governance of business activities has taken shape. This is illustrated with the case study of Tata Steel, one of the largest industrial polluters in the Netherlands which is increasingly under public scrutiny.
With this brief overview we hope to have given a picture of the kind of green criminological research we do at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Seeing the recent appointments of full professors in this domain, and the funding we receive to be engaged in this kind of research, we hope to be able to share more of our studies with you in the near future.
Lieselot Bisschop, René van Swaaningen & Karin van Wingerde
(2) Including an animation video that has been nominated for the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in the category commissioned educational, scientific or industrial film: https://www.eur.nl/en/esl/news/education-animation-video-dieselgate-nominated-international-film-prize