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“The Scope of Illegality is Growing”: The Atlantic Council Releases Report on Tackling Global Illicit Trade’s Threat to Society and Governance

October 23, 2020

Cultural racketeering is part of a broader system of illicit trade around the globe, from human trafficking to drug cartels. The illicit trade harms economies across the world, particularly in developing countries.

This is the subject of a recent report released by the Atlantic Council, titled “States on the cusp: Overcoming illicit trade’s corrosive effects in developing economies.” The report “explores the complex ways in which the illicit trade in otherwise licit goods (including alcohol, pharmaceuticals, luxury goods, cigarettes, electronics, and much more) threatens the stability, security, and prosperity of vulnerable states around the world.” 

On October 23, multiple experts—including Tuesday Reitano (Deputy Director, The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and co-author of the report), Simone Haysom (Senior Analyst, The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime), Franklin Binns (Pharmacist, Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social and Founder,, and Franck Chartier-Dumas (Business Development Director-SICPA)—discussed the report and its findings during a live webinar. 

It provides many lessons for those dedicated to the fight against cultural racketeering.

Key takeaways include:

The Illicit Trade is Growing: With the advent of the internet and social media, the market for illicitly produced and traded goods is expanding. The circulation of small-packaged goods via internet orders has doubled since 2019. This growth has also impacted cultural racketeering. For example, global access to the internet has led to an increase in the online trade of illicit antiquities. 

Oversight of the Illicit Trade is Declining: Free trade zones and ports limit government oversight. The amount of these “blind spots” globally is expanding. For example, there are currently 325 countries with Special Economic Zones (SEZs) or “freeports.” With each new freeport, the security of imports and exports in and out of a country decreases by 6%. UNESCO has identified freeports as “havens for stolen cultural property,” given that looted or stolen cultural goods can be held without investigation or consequence for any amount of time.

Consumer Awareness is a Key Tool to Fighting the Illicit Trade: Cultural racketeering is no exception. Those who purchase ancient art often have no way to validate whether or not a piece has been looted or stolen, and may unwittingly contribute to the destruction of the world’s shared cultural heritage. Educated buyers help protect antiquities and the legitimate art market. Please visit our website to learn more about the illicit trade in antiquities and how to combat looting. 

To read the full Atlantic Council report, click here.