Keywords: rotten apple theory, rotten barrel theory, business crime, empirical study, Norway, white–collar criminals, systems failure, individual failure, corporate failure, organisational culture
Rotten apple or rotten barrel: an empirical study of white–collar criminals in Norway
In the research literature on white–collar crime, there seems to be a tendency to claim individual failure rather than systems failure. The purpose of this paper is to explore statistical differences between individual failures as rotten apples and corporate failures as rotten barrels. The paper is based on an empirical study of white–collar criminals in Norway. It addresses the following research question: What differences can be found between white–collar criminals acting in isolation versus white–collar criminals acting within a culture? Our research is based on data from articles in Norwegian financial newspapers for one year where a total of 74 white–collar criminals convicted to jail sentence were identified. In this sample, we found 50 rotten apples and 24 members of rotten barrels. Results suggest that criminals from a rotten barrel are involved in larger crime as measured by the money amount, while they get a shorter jail sentence than rotten apples.