Cyber criminality, environmental crime, trafficking in drugs, humans, pharmaceuticals, and weapons… the actors of international organized crime constantly diversify their activities, which destroy individuals, blight societies and states, and cause breakdowns in economies. Corruption, trafficking, poverty, conflicts, and terrorism all sustain and reinforce one another.

Actors participating in transnational organized crime are constantly diversifying their activities, aided by certain public policies and by corruption, their wheels oiled by the dark net, smartphones and crypto-currencies. Cybercrime and environmental crime have now been added to trafficking in drugs, humans, medicines, and arms.

Transnational crime blights societies and states and devastates economies. The considerable amounts of capital that it releases stimulate investment as well as gross domestic product (GDP) but corruption, money-laundering and inflated house prices deepen inequalities, distort competition, and discourage FDI (foreign direct investment). Corruption, trafficking, poverty, conflicts and terrorism all maintain and mutually reinforce one another. Inscrutability, which is vital for organized crime networks, makes its scope difficult to assess, as shown by the limited data published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Corruption perceptions index, 2017

Source: Transparency International,

Comment: By definition opaque, corruption can only be approached through surveys which the NGO Transparency International has been conducting annually since 1995. The Corruption Perceptions Index is a composite, global index, based on independent assessments carried out in the countries involved; it assesses the practices of public servants, bribes, public procurements, and misappropriation of funds. The great majority of countries are affected by corruption, but the levels are highest in Southern states (in Africa, the Middle East, and Central America) but also in Russia.


Drug trafficking accounts for more than a quarter of the revenue from transnational crime and is the second source of revenue after counterfeiting. According to the UNODC, 5% of the world population used an illicit drug at least once during the course of 2015, and 30 million people suffer from substance-use disorders. A loose conglomeration of more diffuse networks has now been added to the former large cartels (Mexico, Japan, Russia, and Italy). The far-reaching extent of confiscations confirms the global character of the phenomenon.

There is an increase in drug production across the board, as well as new, more diverse avenues for distributing them. In 2015-2016, poppy-farming produced 6,380 tons of opium, of which Afghanistan provided two-thirds. Among opiates, heroin consumption carries particularly high risks, both direct and indirect (death, hepatitis C, HIV, tuberculosis). The Taliban control production destined for markets in Europe and the Americas via the Balkan route (Iran, Turkey, and Central Europe), the Southern route (South Asia and the Middle East) and the Northern route (Central Asia and Russia). The revenues are used to buy weapons and finance the war of which Afghans are the first victims.

Coca, grown in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, led to the production of 1,125 tons of pure cocaine in 2015, which was consumed by 0.4% of the global population (1.8% in North America, 1.1% in Europe). In Colombia, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) played a role in this production which, according to the peace agreement signed in 2016, is due to cease.

In addition to the traditional flow of drugs toward North America and Europe, the more recent West Africa route (via Brazil then Nigeria or Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, the Niger and Chad), are an important factor in the region’s instability (links with Boko Haram and AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb]). Over the whole of South America, powerful cartels are supported by transnational economic elites and the ability of their networks to penetrate into societies, leading to social and political violence.

Production and trafficking of main drugs (excluding cannabis), mid 2010s 

Source: synthesis from UNODC World Drug Report , editions 2015-2017. 

Comment: The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) gathers and produces data on the consumption, production and trafficking of illegal drugs. The summary overview map shows the global geography of drugs, except for cannabis whose production and consumption are diffuse. The geographies of the three principal drugs are fairly distinct : 1. Cultivation of the opium poppy is concentrated in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, in Myanmar; the flows of opiates (particularly heroin) supply consumers in Europe, Russia, Asia, and the Middle East; 2. Cultivation of coca is confined to the Andes (Colombia, Peru and Bolivia) and supplies markets in North (and South) America and Europe via multiple routes, sometimes indirect, such as Africa; 3. The networks for synthetic drugs are less well known and more fluctuating, because of the multitude of clandestine laboratories that produce these chemical substances.

The world’s leading drug, cannabis (183 million users in 2015), is farmed in 135 countries. Morocco, Afghanistan, Lebanon, India, and Pakistan are the chief producers of cannabis resin while production of cannabis herb is spread more widely throughout the world. Consumption is increasing in Africa, Asia, and the United States (13.5 % of the population). As for synthetic drugs such as LSD, ecstasy (22 million users), amphetamines, and methamphetamines (37 million), these are produced in different forms throughout the world. It is difficult to assess the quantities, but they are certainly increasing in Eastern and Southeast Asia.

Drug consumption (excluding cannabis), mid 2010s 

Source: UNODC, World Drug Report 2017

Comment: These diagrams are constructed from estimates (overlapping circles of low and high averages) provided by the UNODC. They show the numbers of drug consumers (size of circles) and their prevalence, that is their proportion of the national population (color shading). Although much more widely consumed than the hard drugs shown in this graph, cannabis is not represented. On the global scale, synthetic drugs (such as amphetamines and ecstasy) are the most widely consumed; opiates are consumed more in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, while cocaine is more popular in America and Europe. North America stands out for its high prevalence of cocaine and ATS consumption (over 1.5% of the population), which is also the case for the Middle East with regard to opiates.

Policies that focus on combating drug supply, forcing eradication without sufficient alternatives for poor peasant farmers, and cracking down on users, are criticized by NG, which are encouraging a debate on the orientation and lack of effectiveness of these policies. Instead, they are promoting alternatives which seek to reduce risks by means of education, access to treatment, and social inclusion.

Human trafficking

Sexual abuse (54%), forced labor (40%), begging, forced marriage, child soldiers, baby-selling, pornography, organ removal… human trafficking, or modern slavery, is global and multi-sectoral. 79 % of victims are women and children, but perpetrators continue to go unpunished even through the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (2000) was ratified by 170 states. Poverty and conflict are the primary factors in victims’ vulnerability, and it is these that provide traffickers were their best opportunities. The frequency of trafficking is therefore increasing along migrant and refugee routes and in conflict zones: 2,000 child soldiers in Sierra Leone during the course of the 1990s, at least 6,000 in the Central African Republic in 2014, over 4,000 in the DR Congo and, more recently, girls and infants kidnapped by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria, plus 3,000 Yazidi women and children held captive by ISIS.

Modern slavery

Source: International Labour Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage, Geneva, 2017

Comment: Data from the ILO and the Australian Walk Free Foundation estimate the number of individuals working in slave conditions, as well as identifying its forms and geography. The diagram and maps show that 25 million people in the world undergo forced labor (exploitation, sex, and inflicted by the state), mainly in Asia-Pacific and in Europe and Central Asia (with a prevalence of 3.5 to 4.8 per 1,000), and that 15 million undergo forced marriage (most of them women and children), especially in Asia-Pacific and Africa (where it is most prevalent).

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