The $870 Billion-a-year Business of Selling People, Arms, Drugs, Wildlife …

Human Wrongs Watch

With a turnover estimated to be around $870 billion a year, transnational organized crime is an enormous illegal business that is a real threat to peace, human security and prosperity. $870 billion is worth more than six times the amount of official development assistance and is comparable to 1.5 per cent of global GDP, or 7 per cent of the world’s goods exports, according to UN.

Photo: UNODC

Transnational organized crime encompasses virtually all serious profit-motivated criminal actions in which more than one country is involved. Such crimes include drug trafficking, smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons, money-laundering, trafficking in firearms, counterfeit goods, wildlife and cultural property and even some forms of cybercrime, adds the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Generating an estimated $320 billion a year, drug trafficking is the most lucrative form of business for criminals. Counterfeiting, which generates $250 billion a year, is also a very high earner for organized criminal groups, UNODC reports.

Trafficking in persons brings in about $32 billion annually, while some estimates place the global value of smuggling of migrants at $7 billion per year, it adds.

One in Five Victims of Human Trafficking Are Children

“Globally, one in five victims of human trafficking are children, although in poorer regions they make up the majority of trafficked persons. Women meanwhile make up two thirds of the world’s human trafficking victims.”

UNODC reports that the environment is also exploited: trafficking in timber generates revenues of $3.5 billion a year in South-East Asia alone, while elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts from Africa and Asia yield $75 million annually in criminal proceeds.

“Transnational organized crime knows no boundaries; it is an ever-changing industry, adapting to markets and creating new forms of crime. The human cost is substantial, with countless lives lost each year through drug-related health problems and violence, deaths caused by firearms and the unscrupulous methods of human traffickers and migrant smugglers.”

Campaign against Transnational Organized Crime

A UNODC campaign video to raise awareness about transnational organized crime has been viewed online by more than 60,000 people worldwide and aired on television stations such as Bloomberg, Deutsche Welle, Vox Africa and Spanish TVE since its launch in July. The video will be shown at this year’s pre-Oscar screening sessions hosted by Variety Magazine in New York and Los Angeles, with further broadcasting planned via other international media, including CNBC.

The video is part of an extensive multilingual campaign available at, which is being rolled out through online channels such as YouTube, Weibo, Facebook and Twitter and by international broadcasters. The campaign illustrates the key financial and social costs of organized crime and includes fact sheets containing recent statistics on various crimes.

The UNODC campaign illustrates that, despite posing a global threat, the effects of transnational organized crime are felt locally. Organized crime groups often work with local criminals, which leads to an increase in corruption, extortion, racketeering and violence. Criminal groups can destabilize countries and entire regions, undermining development assistance. (See Campaign website: transnational organized crime).

Threat to Peace, Human Security

Progress in international efforts to address transnational organized crime will be the focus of the sixth session of the biennial Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which will be held in Vienna from 15 to 19 October. The Conference was established to improve the capacity of States parties to combat transnational organized crime and to promote and review the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols.

According to UNODC, transnational organized crime threats peace and human security, leading to human rights being violated and undermining economic, social, cultural and political development of societies around the world.

Each year, criminals are estimated to generate around $6.75 billion from the smuggling of migrants along just two of the principal routes used for such smuggling, namely from East, North and West Africa to Europe and from South America to North America. As a form of transnational organized crime, the smuggling of migrants is the subject of a new campaign by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Information on the awareness campaign, which aims to draw attention to the various aspects of transnational organized crime, can be found at and includes a video which is being made available at and through international broadcasters.

The web page and video illustrate the key financial and social costs behind organized crime, including those concerning the smuggling of migrants. The campaign page includes a dedicated section and fact sheet on the smuggling of migrants, available at

Smuggling of Migrants

“Smuggling of migrants” refers to the facilitation of illegal border crossings or of illegal residence in a country with the aim of making a financial or other material profit. Migrants are often smuggled by organized criminal networks that exploit the lack of legal migration opportunities available to migrants seeking a better life, UNDOC informs.

As legal immigration channels become more limited, an increasing number of people seek the assistance of smugglers, who take increasingly risky measures to circumvent border controls. Since the smuggling of migrants is a highly profitable illicit activity with a relatively low risk of detection, it has proven attractive to criminals, it adds.

Evidence indicates that smugglers are becoming more and more organized, establishing professional networks that transcend borders and encompass all regions. As with other forms of organized crime, the groups concerned have increased their operations by shifting routes in a bid to expand into other markets.

“Smuggling routes may originate and end on the same continent, be transcontinental or involve transit through a third continent. In the Americas, an estimated three million illegal migrants enter the United States of America from Latin America each year, which generates an annual income of about $6.6 billion for the criminals involved. Some 55,000 migrants are thought to be smuggled between East, North and West Africa and Europe every year, earning criminals a net profit of $150 million.”

Smuggling Networks Expanding

As smuggling networks expand –UNDOC reports– the safety and lives of smuggled migrants continue to be at risk: many suffocate in containers, perish in deserts or drown at sea while being smuggled. Between 1996 and 2011, at least 1,691 people died while attempting desert journeys, and in 2008 alone a further 1,000 deaths occurred as a result of sea crossings.

Besides loss of life and the grave human rights abuses suffered by migrants as they undertake arduous and risky journeys, the smuggling of migrants fuels other forms of organized crime in the countries of origin, transit and destination.

Smugglers Bribe Government or Border Officials

“Smugglers are known to bribe government or border officials in exchange for documentation, thereby increasing corruption. Smugglers are also known to falsify travel and identity documents both for themselves and for those being smuggled.”

The key to combating the smuggling of migrants is to increase international cooperation, reinforce national coordination and ensure that the laws of the countries involved are harmonized in order to close legal loopholes, since the practice is by nature a transnational crime and the smugglers involved operate in networks, according to UNODC.

“In addition, issues of migration and development need to be examined closely in order to better understand the root causes and prevent organized criminal groups from profiting from vulnerable groups.”

States to Enact Laws Criminalizing Involvement in the Smuggling of Migrants

As the guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, UNODC works to help Member States to implement the two instruments following their ratification.

The Smuggling of Migrants Protocol aims to prevent and combat the smuggling of migrants, protect the rights of smuggled migrants and promote cooperation among States.

UNODC also helps States to enact laws criminalizing involvement in the smuggling of migrants and trains law enforcement officers and prosecutors from around the world in how to deal with smuggling cases.

In July 2012, UNODC assumed the chairpersonship of the Global Migration Group, a United Nations inter-agency group bringing together heads of agencies to promote the wider application of all relevant international and regional instruments and standards relating to migration and to encourage the adoption of more coherent, comprehensive and better coordinated approaches to the issue of international migration.

UNDOC related information:

Campaign website: transnational organized crime

Transnational organized crime campaign: smuggling of migrants

UNODC and the smuggling of migrants

*Source: UNDOC report.

Read also:

 Who Dares to Challenge a 32 Billion Dollars Business – Human Trafficking?

The Nation of 700 Million Jobless and Slaves

Record Refugee Flows to Yemen Amid Reports of Serious Abuses by Smugglers

Millions of Urban Children at High Risk of Violence, Exploitation and Trafficking

Organized Violence in the Horn of Africa

Africa’s Boat People, Victims of Abduction, Extortion, Sexual Assault and Kidnapping

Thousands of African Refugees Face Shocking Levels of Violence by Smugglers

Who Is Afraid of 300 Or 400 Or 500 Million Miserables?

‘Illegal’ Trade in Small Arms Kills Over Half a Million People a Year

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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