Transnational Organized Crime

Reassessing Transnational Organized Crime and the effects of Globalization

  1. Introduction
  2. Human Trafficking
  3. Drug Trafficking
  4. Arms Trafficking
  5. UN Action
  6. Further Reading

1. History

Transnational Organized Crime is seen as one of the greatest threats to international security as it is closely interlinked with violence and exploitation of vulnerable groups. Of special interest in this topic is how globalization has affected this market and how multilateral approaches can be taken to tackle the problem. As General-Secretary Ban-Ki Moon has said: “With transnational threats states have no choice but to work together. We are all affected and have a shared responsibility to act.“

Globalization has profoundly changed the nature of transnational criminal organizations especially concerning their structure and how they make profit. The accelerated speed of international trade has lead to increased international financial flows facilitating the trafficking of people, drugs and illicit arms.  This facilitation has lead some to belief that transnational criminal organizations are the biggest beneficiaries of globalization. As a consequence, a variety of organizational structures has arisen. Future policy recommendations have to consider both hierarchical but also horizontal and network-like structures. A further approach supporting this argument is made by Phil Williams who says that globalization, by creating winners and losers, pulls people into organized crime by offering a coping mechanism. Misha Glenny, on the other hand, points out that after the end of the Cold War, many people in eastern Europe previously contracted by intelligent services were now looking for new job opportunities as state institutions like courts and police forces were destabilized. As a consequence, many private security firms were created as there was a demand for treaty-enforcement by economic actors.

Transnational organized crime is not only a threat to the people directly involved but to international security as a whole. Regulation for, for example money laundering is already being reintroduced. However, terrorism benefits differently from liberalized financial sectors.  Whilst money laundering concerns proceedings of crime that are transformed to appear as if they were from a legal source, terrorist organizations do not need to take that extra step as their main concern is the funding of their activities by any means necessary. 

With globalization, the nature of transnational criminal crime has changed and policy strategies have to be adapted.  The days of empires such as  Pablo Escobar’s may be seen as numbered, however, new social research demonstrates that not all organizations have adopted network and horizontal structures, but some remain very hierarchical. The deregulation of financial sectors connected to the increase in international financial flows and trade, consequently facilitates smuggling.  It has been pointed out that globalization has created winners and losers and organized crime can be a coping mechanism for losers. A variety of violent groups such as warlords and terrorists profit from globalization by engaging in criminal activities (transnationally) as funding mechanisms. It is difficult to distinguish between organizations that use transnational organized crime as a funding mechanism for other activities and such that are primarily concerned with profit-maximizing on a macro-level. For example, warlords engage in illicit trade with minerals, drugs and weapons to finance their conflicts.

In response to the decrease in consumption resulting from the financial crisis, transnational organized crime has adapted by intensifying their efforts concerning cybercrime. By doing so, transnational organized crime has entered all aspects of life. Another example for this is the sharp increase of counterfeit medicine on the internet market as criminal organizations offer products online to people who do not have access to affordable medicine. This has even lead to an increase of malaria drug resistance pests in poor areas.

Another aspect for which awareness is increasing is the influence of weak state institutions, or rather the lack thereof. Capacity gaps and unresponsive institutions can be exploited even to such an extent that criminal organizations become surrogates in providing forms of governance. Already in 1985, Charles Tilly (“war making and state making as organized crime” ) pointed out the parallels between states and criminal organizations in providing public goods such as safety. Difficulties concerning the implementation of existing policies are the inherent weakness of multilateralism, which is often too slow to respond to agile and flexible transnational organizations. Missing review mechanisms in order to adapt the institutional framework intensify this effect.

For this session, it will be absolutely necessary for participants to narrow down the topic to specifically target one aspect of transnational organized crime whilst considering the cross-cutting effects.

2. Human Trafficking

The trafficking in Persons protocol requires that states introduce legislation for the criminalization of human trafficking, attempts to do so, participation as an accomplice and the organizing or directing of others. Also, states are to consider the inter and intra state nature of human trafficking, the variety of exploitative purposes (sexual, labor, organ), the range of victims and that organized crime groups are not always or sometimes partly involved in such processes.

Modern slavery is seen as forced work without pay under the threat of violence where victims are unable to escape. There are millions of victims world-wide both in developing and developed countries. This means that there are more people in slavery than ever before. This is not only caused by the population explosion, but also the combination of extreme poverty and vulnerability (e.g civil wars, natural disasters) and the absence of the rule of law (e.g  police corruption). When violence faces impunity it becomes possible to harvest and commercialize vulnerability. Slavery often initially attracts its victims with the prospect of a paying job and is consequently closely interlinked with poverty, inequality, lack of education and prospects and hindered access to medical supplies. Average price of a slave is 90 USD, in the USA it ranges around 3000-4000 USD and in Nepal 5-10 USD. Most people living in slavery live where the costs of Liberation (≠ buying off slaves) are the lowest. Local economies profit from Liberation as they become consumers and participants in society. It is necessary to learn from history and be cautious to create sustainability and not dependency or second class citizens.

Finally, a link exists between environmental politics and slavery as it is common in mining and deforestation in the amazons.

3. Drug Trafficking

Every type of drug has it’s own specific production, trafficking and distribution process. Cannabis for example is most often produced locally with limited international trafficking. Among the top producing countries is Marrocco that trades to Europe and Afghanistan.  Amphetamines are produced in illegal laboratories in countries where they are consumed particularly in Europe and the USA. Afghanistan and Myanmar are main producers of the opium poppy necessary for heroin. Cocaine comes from Bolivia, Columbia and Peru. However, the United Nations have now detected Canada as a key producer in ecstasy and synthetic drugs and decreasing levels of cocaine and heroine consumption as result of innovation in the field of synthetic drugs. As production shifts away from the developing world into the western world trafficking flows are changing, which leads to a direct change in violence hot spots. To ensure supply to the consumers, complete control over the geographical trafficking and distribution channels is necessary. This automatically leads to increased violence as demand and violence are interlocked in drug trade.

Mexico has become the focus of a case study looking into the dynamics of drug organizations since more people have died in the drug war than have in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Leading analysts encourage observers to think of drug cartels as business enterprises and increased competition has lead to business diversification. For example; the new drug trade includes cross border trade of prescription drugs which are more expensive in the USA.

The cartel Knights Templar have introduced a strategy of social enterprise engaged in protecting civilians against criminal organizations. They even provide local services like dealing with domestic violence, petty criminals, treatment of addicts and keeping out foreign drugs of local markets. When violence escalates, they even provide explanations to public newspapers. The Sinoa Federation specializes in innovations on the drug market. Trafficking strategies are optimized using submarines and catapults. Unlike the other cartels they are organized through family ties and protect their professional brand by outsourcing questionable tasks to gangs. Furthermore, they engage professional videographers and PR.

Los Zetas are know to be one of the most brutal cartels, even though their body count is not significantly higher than that of others. It appears to be part of a marketing strategy to inflict fear in new territories which are to be taken over by local subsidiaries. As Los Zetas openly recruit directly from the army, their organization is marked by a clear structure of command, hierarchy and promotion paths. Advertising includes better prospects for insurance and higher wages. This clear structure has allowed for diversification across markets such as kidnapping, prostitution, local drug dealing and human trafficking (including migrants).

When looking at drug trafficking from a more economic perspective, one also needs to consider the demand side. Here, the United States alone are accountable for half of global demand. Observers like Ethan Nadelmann also point out that drug policy is generally less correlated with associated risks, but associated consumers as prohibition laws have historically been introduced after a shift in the consumer base. He adds that drug policies become a human rights issue when they emphasize criminalization over health seeing as there are more investments in punishing than in helping facilities.

Summarizing the above, drug trade is the result of a huge market demand and to supply and relies on delivery routes where violence is necessary. Drug trading organizations are sophisticated business organizations and are deeply integrated in society. 

4. Arms Trafficking

In all parts of the world, the ready availability of weapons and ammunition has led to human suffering, political repression, crime and terror among civilian populations. The poorly regulated global trade in conventional arms and ammunition fuels conflict, poverty and human rights abuses. Irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons can destabilize security in a region, enable the violation of Security Council arms embargoes and contribute to human rights violations. The problems are compounded by the increasing globalization of the arms trade – components being sourced from across the world, and production and assembly in different countries, sometimes with little government supervision. More importantly, investment in countries which are affected is, as a result, discouraged. This disruption of development in countries experiencing conflict and high levels of violence also affects their ability to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. Especially in recent years, observers have pointed out the violence resulting from illicit small arms trade to be migrating into (mega) cities.

Domestic regulation of the arms trade has, however, failed to adapt to these changes. In 2014, the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) came into force. Under the new standard set in the ATT,, the supplier government must assess associated risks of the deal using strict criteria, including whether the arms might be used for human rights violations or war crimes before any arms transfer takes place. If there is a substantial risk of this happening, the deal must not be authorized by the seller.

5. UN Action

a. What is TOC in the UN?

By UN definition, organized crime becomes transnational if it is committed in more than one state or if a substantial part of preparation, planning, direction or control takes place in another state than the crimes are committed or if they are committed in one state but involve an organized criminal group that engages in criminal activities in more than one state or in one state but having substantial effects in another state (TOC Convention art. 3 abs. 2). Also it involves organized criminal groups, which mean structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences established in accordance with this Convention, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit. The most commonly seen transnational organized crimes are money laundering, cyber crime; and trafficking of humans, drugs, weapons, endangered species, body parts, or nuclear material.

b. What is the Main UN Instrument?

United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (adopted by the GA Res 55/25 of 15.11.2000)

The Convention is further supplemented by three Protocols, which target specific areas and manifestations of organized crime:

  • the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (in force since 2003)
    • Definition on human trafficking: "[…]the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs"
  • the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (in force since 2004)
    • Definition of smuggling of migrants: "[…]the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident"
  • the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition (in force since 2005)
    • Series of domestic crime control measures

Countries must become parties to the Convention itself before they can become parties to any of the Protocols. Creating globally agreed upon definitions allows convergence in national approaches with regard to the establishment of domestic criminal offenses, finally supporting efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting such offenses on the international level. By ratifying these documents, states commit to creating a series of measures against transnational organized crime. For example:

  • declaration of certain domestic criminal offenses (participation in an organized criminal group, money laundering, corruption and obstruction of justice)
  • the adoption of new and sweeping frameworks for extradition
  • mutual legal assistance and law enforcement cooperation
  • the promotion of  training and technical assistance for building or upgrading the necessary capacity of national authorities
c.Who has ratified the aforementioned convention and the protocols?

6. Further Reading

Human Trafficking

prevention commercials:

Drug trade
Arms trade