Let's put organized crime out of business. What's being done and how you can help

Combating a global phenomenon such as transnational organized crime requires partnerships at all levels. Governments, businesses, civil society, international organizations and people in all corners of the world have a part to play. Here are some of the actions that are being taken and some ideas to help stop transnational organized crime:

Coordination, education, intelligence and assistance

  • Coordination: integrated action at the international level is crucial in identifying, investigating and prosecuting the people and groups behind these crimes.
  • Education and awareness-raising: ordinary citizens should learn more about organized crime and how it affects everyday lives. Express your concerns to policy and decision makers so that this truly global threat is considered by politicians to be a top priority among the public's major concerns. Consumers also have a key role to play: know what you are purchasing, do so ethically and make sure that you do not fuel organized crime.
  • Intelligence and technology: criminal justice systems and conventional law enforcement methods are often no match for powerful criminal networks. Better intelligence methods need to be developed through the training of more specialized law enforcement units, which should be equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
  • Assistance: developing countries need assistance in building their capacity to counter these threats. An important tool that can help with this is the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which has been ratified by 170 parties and provides a universal legal framework to help identify, deter and dismantle organized criminal groups. In October 2012 the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime will be held in Vienna. That biennial series of meetings brings together Governments from across the world to promote and review the execution of the Convention in order to ensure better implementation in tackling this international issue. At a practical level, UNODC helps strengthen the capacity of States to track and prevent money-laundering with training and technical assistance for following the money trail. These measures can help cut off the profits of crime.


The counterfeit business is a global operation spread across numerous countries and organized by cross-border criminal networks. In a bid to tackle these crimes there is an ever-growing need for action at both the local and the international level.

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is the world's most inclusive platform for cooperation in tackling this issue. 170 countries are currently party to the Convention and have committed themselves to fighting organized crime locally and internationally by such means as collaboration and ensuring that domestic laws are suitably structured. In October 2012 UNODC will be hosting the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. This biennial series of meetings brings together Governments from across the world to promote and review the execution of the Convention in order to ensure better implementation in tackling this international issue.

Organizations such as INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization are also central to tackling this sort of crime, particularly given the cross-border nature of the operations behind counterfeiting. This provision of a crucial link between law enforcement agencies is a good example of the kind of actions necessary to curb transnational organized crime networks.

There is also a great need to build more awareness of the scale of the problem. The responsibility for this is widespread, with international organizations, public health authorities, trade organizations, consumer groups and concerned citizens all able to play their part and make people aware of the dangers of counterfeit goods to health and safety. Private companies complicit in this trade should, for instance, be named and shamed, and codes of conduct more rigorously enforced.

Law enforcement agencies should also take a tougher stand against counterfeiters, and that stance ultimately has to be backed up by relevant and comprehensive local laws. Coordinated and cross-sector action at the international level is vital for identifying, investigating and prosecuting these criminals. One such area in which measures are lacking in many parts of the world is that of rogue Internet pharmacies, which operate with little fear.

Consumers also have a responsibility to exert their influence with their purchasing choices. While consumers often cannot identify counterfeit goods, such as medicines containing dangerous products, the more evident purchases of counterfeit products should be shunned. Counterfeiting networks can - and will - continue to operate as long as customers support this form of illegal trading. If you know a film has been illegally copied and is being sold as a knock-off, don't buy it. If your favourite designer brand is clearly not made by your favourite designer, stay away. Beyond these obvious counterfeit products, stay alert to other warning signs. If a medicine that you know normally requires a prescription is available online without any sort of script from a doctor, then it could harm your health, perhaps irreversibly. Remember - while these purchases may save you money in the short term, the longer-term losses are far more costly.

Environmental crime

Among the most influential of the many international conservation agreements that have been signed is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which 175 States are parties. Under the Convention, States that do not take measures to protect endangered species are subject to escalating international pressure, which can ultimately result in trade sanctions.

The work of UNODC in countering environmental crime includes local, regional and global initiatives. The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), a partnership involving the CITES secretariat, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), UNODC, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization, works to bring coordinated support to national wildlife law enforcement agencies and related subregional and regional networks. In mid-2012, UNODC, in partnership with other members of ICCWC, developed the Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit, which is aimed at assisting Governments in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their criminal justice responses to wildlife and forest crime.

At the local and regional levels, UNODC works extensively to tackle various forms of environmental crime. In South-East Asia in particular, it conducts widespread research to better guide countries on countering trafficking in wildlife and illegal logging and encourages Governments to increase their efforts to protect natural resources and convict perpetrators of crimes against the environment. Critically, the work of UNODC in this area also involves working with authorities to improve laws and increase international cooperation to respond to crimes against the environment.

International NGOs such as WWF also play an important role in lobbying Governments for greater action against environmental crime and collaborating with them on conservation issues. They also build awareness among the general public at the global and local levels and lead debate on these concerns.

Aside from these international and national initiatives, the role of the public is essential. Here are some of the things that the public can do:

  • Demand reduction: Consumers have a big - if not the biggest - role to play in stopping the illegal trade in wildlife and timber. As an informed consumer, you can help reduce demand by being aware of which species are under protection. This includes knowing whether products such as rhino horn or tiger bones are used in traditional medicine and paying careful attention to labelling when buying exotic timber.
  • Eco-tourism: As a tourist, you can choose your routes, visits and destinations carefully and support eco-tourism. It should also be a given that you do not take home with you any animal or wildlife products.
  • Publicity: High profile individuals can speak out against environmental crimes. In some countries, traditional practices and beliefs and a desire for status symbols hinder efforts to curb wildlife crime. Influential public voices can help to dispel myths, expose the cruelty of poaching and highlight the illegality of the practices involved, thereby building support for change.
  • Awareness-raising: Lack of knowledge or awareness often leads to unknowing consumption of illegal wildlife products. Governments, NGOs and individuals can help spread information about these issues within society.
  • Providing alternatives and sustainable livelihoods: As poverty is one of the main factors driving the illegal trade in wildlife, supporting legal income-generating activities can be an important measure, indirectly helping to curb environmental crime.
  • Business: Companies can take action through smart and sustainable business decisions. In the timber trade in particular, companies should check certificates to ensure that products are of legal origin. If companies refuse to buy illegally produced timber and wood products, it will lead to less revenue for traffickers, and therefore less deforestation.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is being tackled through a variety of national and international means. In 2000, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, were adopted by the General Assembly and entered into force at the end of 2003. As the only international legal instrument addressing human trafficking as a crime, the Protocol is the world's premier tool for preventing and combating human trafficking, protecting and assisting victims and promoting cooperation among countries in order to tackle the crime. As of June 2012, there are 150 States parties to the Protocol but, despite a high level of political commitment, implementation of the Protocol by States is still very uneven. Towards the end of 2012 UNODC will be publishing a new global report on trafficking in persons. Based on data collected from Member States, the report will provide a basis for evaluating how trends have changed since the last global UNODC data-collection exercise, in 2009, and will provide guidance as to what remains to be done.

At the national level, countries continue to implement the Protocol and work towards integrating anti-human trafficking legislation into their domestic laws. There are also annual improvements in the number of countries with specific legislation, as well as those with special anti-human trafficking police units and national action plans to deal with the issue. However, despite increasing conviction rates for the crime of human trafficking, the number of such convictions remains low. In an effort to tackle this, more effective implementation of the Protocol at the national level and greater degrees of regional and international cooperation are needed.

Fighting human trafficking should not just be seen as the responsibility of the authorities. Ordinary people can help tackle the crime by being aware of it and by making sure that the plight of victims does not go unnoticed. There are many ways that you can help tackle this crime and make a difference:

  • Be alert: If you see anything that you think might be related to trafficking, tell the police or telephone your local anti-trafficking helpline, if one is available. These concerns could relate to your workplace or to your private life - remember, victims are coerced into a range of areas. If you are unsure, it is better to be mistaken than to let another victim continue to be enslaved.
  • Be involved: Find out what is being done in your community, see what you can do and encourage your friends, family and neighbours to be more aware about human trafficking. Many national authorities and non-governmental organizations are involved in anti-trafficking work and there is a wealth of information available online through these channels.
  • Be aware: you and your friends can join the UNODC-led Blue Heart Campaign against human trafficking by visiting www.unodc.org/blueheart. This international initiative works to raise awareness of the plight of victims and build political support to fight the criminals behind trafficking. The Blue Heart campaign is also on Twitter (http://twitter.com/BlueHeartHT) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/BlueHeartHT) - "like" and follow us for updates and news on human trafficking and use these channels to share information with your contacts.
  • Be supportive: you can support the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking ( www.unodc.org/humantraffickingfund) which does fundraising to assist grass-roots organizations working with survivors of this crime. One way of raising funds is to organize an event at your school or in your community. You could also adopt the Blue Heart and help increase awareness about human trafficking.
  • Be responsible: make sure that your consumer choices and actions are ethical ones. While some decisions might be clearer than others, you can pledge not to purchase goods and services that could be linked directly or indirectly with sexual exploitation, forced labour or other forms of forced subjugation.

Smuggling of migrants

The absence or inadequacy of national legislation to address the smuggling of migrants in many parts of the world often means that smugglers of migrants can continue to commit the crime with little fear of being brought to justice. Responses by States often target migrants, leaving smugglers, and especially organized criminal groups, which are more difficult to apprehend, at large. Only a limited number of States have specific policies and mechanisms in place aimed at countering the smuggling of migrants, and a lack of capacity to investigate and prosecute the crime means that criminal justice systems are often unable to meet the challenge of combating it. Beyond this, failure to secure smuggled migrants as witnesses means that prosecutions are often difficult and opportunities to convict are missed. Moreover, the smuggling of migrants is not always considered a serious crime for which a heavy penalty could be imposed. Ensuring that priority is given to investigating higher-level smugglers and taking due account of aggravating circumstances in the prosecution of cases involving the smuggling of migrants could have a deterrent effect on organized criminal groups.

Moreover, organized criminal groups turn to smuggling of migrants only for the profit that it generates. Following the money trail by launching financial investigations and freezing, seizing and confiscating assets, as well as looking for examples of money-laundering, could have a direct impact on such profits. Making the smuggling of migrants an unprofitable crime would discourage organized criminal groups from becoming involved in it.

The smuggling of migrants is by nature a transnational crime, and the smugglers involved work in networks. Key to combating the smuggling of migrants, therefore, is the need to increase international cooperation, reinforce national coordination and ensure that the laws in the countries involved are harmonized in order to close loopholes. Only by ensuring that actors within countries of origin, transit and destination work together can the smuggling of migrants be stopped. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the Convention, are essential to addressing the crime.

The work of UNODC in countering the smuggling of migrants focuses on assisting States in implementing the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol and in enacting laws criminalizing involvement in the smuggling of migrants and on training law enforcement officers and prosecutors from around the world. Organizations such as the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) support the efforts of national police authorities in breaking up the criminal networks behind the smuggling of migrants.

The underlying social, economic and political pressures that fuel the crime cannot be ignored. Unemployment, war and persecution are but three of the many reasons people decide to leave their home country. Pull factors include demand for cheap, undocumented labour in countries of destination. To better understand these dynamics and fully address the root causes of migration in order to prevent organized criminal groups from profiting from vulnerable groups such as migrants, a comprehensive response is required - one that involves examining the issues of migration and development.


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