The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the successor development framework to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), promulgated by the 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) this September, lays out a series of transformative goals and targets that are perceived as central to achieving the UN’s core goals of achieving peace, eradicating poverty and ensuring sustainable development for all peoples.

Countering organised crime is explicitly referenced as a critical target in Goal 16, but the repeated mentions across the document of organised crime’s many manifestations – from forced labour to wildlife trafficking – evidence the fact that organised crime has become a far reaching, pernicious threat that is now central to the mandate of development actors. In a study, the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime found that of the 169 targets included in that framework, 23 of them – 12.5 percent of the total – will require directly addressing a criminal flow or network in order to be achieved.

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The inclusion of goals and targets around governance and the rule of into the ASD2030 is a seismic shift from their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals. For the first time, this compelling development agenda recognises a set of drivers relating to governance, social justice and the rule of law are fundamental to ensuring development and human security. Organised crime, and the corruption and impunity that result from its practice and perpetuation, threatens the legitimacy of the social contract, undermines the rule of law and slows, if not reverses, development progress.

The primary onus for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is at national level, and it is therefore imperative that national policymakers have the capacity to identify, understand and respond to the impact of organised crime as a development challenge.

The classic conceptualisation of organised crime as a law enforcement and criminal justice issue has lead to security-first strategies focused around border control and policing, and these have largely failed to deliver results. Reconceptualising this within a development framework as part of an integrated approach has garnered policy attention, but there is little genuine understanding of what that means in practice.

One challenge, which is particularly pertinent as questions around measuring progress against the ASD2030 are considered, is what is the marker of a “successful” response to organised crime. This is important, as the way that success is measured tends to drive the “toolbox” of approaches that are brought to the table in response.

Goal 16 of the ASD2030 agenda contains the governance and rule of law principles, and with such largely nebulous and qualitative concepts at play, the ability to find suitable quantifiable indicators of success has proven a subject of significant debate. In particular, for Goal 16.4, which aggregates a number of diverse concepts under one unwieldy chapeau, measurement of inwards and outward IFFs has come to the foreground as the likely primary metric against which success will be measured. In seeking a more responsive and multi-dimensional set of metrics, however, it is clear that one single indicator is unlikely to fit the bill.

Through this project, the Global Initiative is trying to support policy makers with a set of tools for programmatic responses, and to define a basket of measurable indicators that will provide data across two categories, the scale of organised crime and its impact. It is also working towards a flagship “Organised Crime Index” that can catalyse and inform global responses.

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