A ground breaking report published last month sent shockwaves throughout Europe. Demonstrating how organized crime groups exploit free-trade zones, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) publication ‘On Tap Europe: Organized Crime and Illicit Trade in Tobacco, Alcohol and Pharmaceuticals’, made for alarming reading.
Most astonishing was the revelation of how these groups were being encouraged by corrupt practices at the very heart of Europe’s fight against illicit trade – its border controls.
In addition to the exploitation of free-trade zones and corruption at European borders, RUSI also identified three other key enablers of illicit trade: postal and courier services; the internet and social media; and social acceptability. It is a sad fact that trade in illicit goods is tolerated by certain individuals and there remains a demand. Why isn’t it universally stigmatized?
Like oil, criminal activity will seep through any gaps and weak points if allowed. If you provide an opening, no matter how small, criminals can spot a potential to exploit it. They are slippery. They are clever.
Causes of the problem are often hidden in plain sight. The first line of the executive summary of the well-written report very much captures the stark reality:
“An official quietly stamping paperwork; a lorry passing across internal EU borders; an innocuous parcel in a postman’s van: this is what organised crime looks like in Europe.”
So, what is the solution? Well, the report makes 14 recommendations for the European Commission, its agencies and EU member states. However, we all have a part to play here. If demand was not there, supply would dwindle and the crime of illicit trade would not pay.
According to the OECD and EUIPO, trade in counterfeit and pirated products cost the EU as much as €85 billion in 2013, and that is before losses from smuggling genuine goods or manufacturing unlicensed generic products are taken into account.
As Clare Ellis, the author of the report, states: “This is not minor criminality, it is sophisticated organised crime on an international scale.”
Stamping out crime for good will never be easy, but we can all do our collective bit. We should all stand up and fight. Illicit trade must never be tolerated. Let’s take away the oxygen from the organised crime groups. Don’t buy illicit goods! And if you know someone who habitually purchases goods that are not from a legitimate supply chain – have a word with them. Impose stigma to help stamp it out.
I applaud RUSI for putting the spotlight on this serious issue, and will continue to be an active member of the force combatting the problem.
Written by Alvise Giustiniani