Containing organised crime and protecting development processes from it

The relationship between development and organised crime has at least two dimensions: development interventions can help contain and/or prevent the emergence and spread of organised criminal activities and groups; and they can seek to protect development processes from being negatively affected by organised crime. In the first type of intervention, development is a function of counter-crime measures, at least in part. In the second type, it is the object of intervention that needs to be protected against the corrosive and debilitating effects of organised crime on development processes. As in the case of the relationship between development and violent conflict, in practice both types of interventions overlap and are ideally mutually reinforcing. This approach has recently been articulated by Shaw, Reitano and Hunter of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime Secretariat (Global Initiative, 2016):

This framework is an attempt to shift to a situation where development actors are proactively acknowledging and addressing crime and criminal actors in their work, recognising that while not all interventions may be directly targeted at organised crime itself, [… they] may require working in environments where criminal actors and the externalities of their presence are increasingly a feature of the programming landscape. […] This framework is therefore equally as relevant for organised crime specific programming, as well as organised crime relevant measures (Global Initiative, 2016, p. 22).

What sets this approach to programming apart from law enforcement and other strategies that essentially aim to re-establish security is that it frames organised crime not as some sort of external threat that has to be minimised or neutralised. Rather, organised crime is perceived as reflecting a set of diverse societal and developmental challenges—increasingly linked to global issues—that can be addressed effectively only if they are tackled together and not in isolation from one another. Such challenges include, for instance, protection economies that emerge in developing countries around criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and oil theft but also human smuggling and environmental crime like wildlife poaching. Moreover, in a similar manner to current drug policy reform debates, this perspective parts from the premise that, just as it is impossible to conceive of a ‘drug-free world’, it is likewise impossible to conceive of an ‘(organised) crime-free world’.

This conception of an integrated approach appears to be particularly pertinent as it ‘focuses less on the modus operandi of criminal groups, but instead looks at the market in a specific locality or along a supply chain, [mapping] the entities involved in the criminal market [and] their inter-relationships and interests’ (Global Initiative, 2016, p. 5). In this perspective, which is in line with the framing of organised crime used in this Topic Guide,

The study of power has […] become increasingly important in the analysis of organised crime, as ‘power syndicates’ have developed whose role is to exert control over illicit business and to extract rent from their perpetuation through protection or extortion. Accordingly, […] organised crime and criminal enterprise can no longer be viewed as being distinct to the state or legitimate enterprise (Global Initiative, 2016, p. v-vi).

Among the key proposed programming responses associated with this approach are

(a) direct interventions designed to directly weaken organised crime groups or networks by reducing their ability to operate through the arrest of people or undercutting the legitimacy of criminal actors in the wider society; (b) indirect interventions targeted at building the capacity of community and state actors to be resilient to the risks posed by organised crime, including through building the integrity of state institutions and protecting communities from criminal influence and threats: and (c) mitigating interventions, a specific set of options related to mitigating the impact and harm of crime in different sectors, including reducing violence and enhancing social and environmental protection (Global Initiative, 2016, p. 22).

While some elements of these distinct approaches to tackling organised crime as part of developmental efforts have been put into practice, as yet we lack any systematic assessments and evaluations of their impact. It is beyond the scope of this Topic Guide to undertake this important pending task.

  • It draws on a process facilitated by the Global Initiative known as the “Development Dialogue”, which includes representatives of the development donor community as well as independent experts from think-tanks and multilateral institutions and has been funded by contributions from the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, the UK and the US.