This module is a resource for lecturers


The provision of illicit goods and services is one of the profit-making centres of organized crime, in addition to the infiltration of government and business (please, see Module 4). The specific goods and services chosen by organized criminal groups depend on various factors, such as regional availability, consumer demand, regulatory and enforcement capacities, and competition from other organized criminal groups.

For example, ivory trafficking is likely to be one of the illicit markets chosen by organized criminal groups operating in East Africa, heroin trafficking by those active in Afghanistan, and cocaine trafficking in South America, because these regions are sources of a product in high demand in various parts of the world. Other regions might become involved either as trafficking routes or destination markets of the same illicit goods or services (UNODC, 2010).

This Module will review some of the most relevant profit-making centres of organized criminal groups, and consequently, some of the most serious and heinous crimes they commit. Such crimes include:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Firearms trafficking
  • Wildlife and forest crime
  • Counterfeit products trafficking
  • Manufacturing of and trafficking in falsified medical products
  • Trafficking in cultural property
  • Trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants.

It is worth noting that trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants are two separate and distinct crimes, but in this Module they are considered in the same section in order to highlight their similarities and differences. For instance, they are both committed by organized criminal groups with the aim of providing a service, although the service provided is of a very different nature. Through trafficking in persons, organized criminal groups provide cheap or slave labour, commercial sex or other forms of sexual exploitation by use of force, fraud, coercion, and other illegal means. Therefore, the person who is trafficked is always a victim and the service is provided to third parties. In cases of migrant smuggling, the service is provided to the migrants, who offer a financial, or other material benefit to the smuggler in order to facilitate their illegal entry into a country of which they are not nationals or permanent residents. Smuggled migrants are also extremely vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking, thus these two crimes often intersect.

It will be shown how supply, demand, regulation (laws and enforcement) and competition shape and maintain criminal markets as well as those organized criminal groups that exploit them. Prevention and intervention strategies aimed only at tackling the illicit activities of organized criminal groups will not be effective unless the dynamics of the illicit markets are also addressed.

Learning outcomes

  • Understand the nature of common criminal markets in which organized criminal groups operate in order to provide illicit goods and services.
  • Recognize the differences among the markets for illicit goods and services, and why they are attractive to organized crime.
  • Distinguish the similarities and differences among crimes and opportunities that enable the provision of illicit goods and services of different kinds in different world regions.
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