Jobs are not enough: The private sector’s role in creating a safer society
Earlier this year I spent some time looking at crime statistics for Trinidad and Tobago. By the end of April, 175 murders had been committed for the year. This represented a 45% increase on the same period just five years ago. In fact, of the preceding 64 months, a mere 11 (17%) have averaged less than a murder a day. Only one of these months of relative calm has come since the end of 2015.
Over this same period, only 2014-2015 saw an annual reduction in murders. Perhaps that year offenders took Kerwin Du Bois and Ravi B literally when they sang ‘Overdoing It’. Either way, the respite was short-lived.
Meanwhile, the government and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) say they are doing their best to remedy the situation. It is beyond the scope of this article to judge their progress or make policy recommendations. Instead the following paragraphs focus on the role of business and interventions it can make, for its own good and for the good of the country.
Crime as a symptom
Before discussing potential private sector crime interventions, it is important to understand that many forms of crime are believed to be symptoms of prevailing socio-economic conditions and culture. In 2017, Professor David Canter – an internationally renowned applied social researcher and crime psychologist – stated, “The central message that emerges from all these studies is that criminality is an integral part of how society, and its culture, is constructed. Thinking of crime as generated by abnormal individuals that is the responsibility of law enforcement and the judicial system is to ignore the endemic processes that sustain it and those who deal with it on a daily basis”.
The last sentence is worth repeating, “. . . Thinking of crime as generated by abnormal individuals that is the responsibility of law enforcement and the judicial system is to ignore the endemic processes that sustain it and those who deal with it on a daily basis”.
Compare this with the view of many in our society. For example, in early 2018 a prominent economist opined publicly that the private sector has no role to play in solving the issue of crime, and that it is purely a public-sector responsibility.
Where focus is needed
So, if many forms of criminality are symptoms, what are some of the contributing socio-economic and cultural factors? Poverty will naturally come to mind for many, though research suggests that phenomena such as economic inequality, inequality of opportunities and a lack of social mobility are more important than the mere presence of poverty. Thus, efforts focused on simply reducing poverty may not have significant impact on the crime situation.
This hints towards a role for the private sector. By their very nature, businesses aim to generate ever-increasing wealth, which may help reduce poverty. But more importantly, business can directly affect economic inequality, inequality of opportunity and a lack of social mobility through its operating policies and practices as well as through CSR initiatives.
Before discussing some of the ways companies can play a role, it is important to acknowledge that work is already being done. The pages of this and past CSR Review’s are filled with companies that have committed time, effort and money to help solve social challenges in Trinidad and Tobago. However, more can be done and existing initiatives can be improved or scaled to increase their impact.
Below are some examples of actions companies can take to help the country’s crime situation.
- Entrepreneurship and employability training programs – These sorts of programs are quite common, both locally and internationally. Usually a company will sponsor or co-deliver a program in collaboration with an NGO, CSO, other business or government body. The program may provide beneficiaries with some combination of employability skills, life skills, entrepreneurship skills, literacy and financial literacy training, technical training and even mentorship. Projects that encourage the five C’s of positive youth development (Connection, Confidence, Character, Caring, and Competence) are often the most effective in reducing negative behaviour. Or, according to Pittman et al. (2003) “Effective youth engagement is not just about fixing behaviour problems. It’s about building and nurturing all the beliefs, behaviours, knowledge, attributes and skills that result in a healthy and productive adolescence and adulthood”.
- Internships and apprenticeships – Many companies already offer internships and apprenticeships, however only a handful of these will proactively target at-risk youth or youth in conflict with the law. It is understandable that companies may be wary of such initiatives, but there are numerous examples around the world of companies that have successfully embraced such programs. Since 2011 Brigade Bistro in London UK, has run training programs for homeless and at-risk individuals, which culminate in six-month apprenticeships in the restaurant’s kitchen. In Italy, InGalera restaurant is located inside of a jail and open to the public. The restaurant is staffed by prisoners who are given the opportunity to learn new skills and develop their work ethic. Back in the UK, large chains such as Greggs (a bakery), Boots (a pharmacy) and Timpson (a retailer specialising in show repair, key cutting and engraving) have dedicated schemes for hiring ex-offenders. As Trinidadian prison consultant Dr. Summer Alston-Smith explains, “these involve thorough recruitment processes and work placement trials based on ‘Release on Temporary License’, whereby prisoners leave jail during the day to work and return in the evening. The guarantee of employment provides stability to prisoners upon release, while employers gain extremely loyal staff!”
- Be an equal opportunity employer – In addition to meeting all legal requirements, employment practices should embrace diversity, ensuring the only thing that matters is finding the best person for the job, irrespective of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, family situation or social class. This may require those with responsibilities for recruitment to undergo some level of unconscious bias training. Hiring processes may also be designed so that all applicants receive the same treatment and ensure any special needs applicants have those needs met. This fair and equal treatment should continue throughout each employee’s time with your company, giving everyone a fair chance to learn, develop and progress in the business.
- Reduce white collar crime and corruption – The causal link between corruption, economic inequality and poverty have been well known for some time. Research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1998 found this link to hold across countries with different growth experiences, different stages of development and even using various indices of corruption. Respondents to primary research conducted by the author in 2017, also identified white collar crime and corruption as the third most important socio-economic challenge facing Trinidad and Tobago, just behind violent crime and weak public institutions. Corruption cannot exist without willing private sector participants.
Regardless of the approach taken, it is clear the private sector has a role to play in helping solve the problem of crime in Trinidad and Tobago. It is also clear that companies are best able to do so by targeting the socio-economic and cultural causes of crime, rather than crime itself.
The current situation is unsustainable. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) ranks Trinidad and Tobago sixth out of 17 Latin American and Caribbean countries for annual costs of crime as a proportion of GDP. It estimates our economy loses between 2.26% and 3.52% of GDP to crime annually. In the current economic climate, those are losses we simply cannot afford.
 Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, Totals Crime by Month Report. Accessed on 25 May 2018 – http://www.ttps.gov.tt/Statistics/Crime-Totals-By-Month
 Professor David Canter. 2017. To Know a Society, Know its Crime. Accessed on 25 May 2018 https://www.socialsciencespace.com/2017/09/know-culture-know-crime/
 Project Everlast. http://dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/MCAH/Documents/HYN2015-FiveCs_YouthDevelopment.pdf