The world is facing a number of serious and often interlinked threats and challenges, including violent conflicts, climate change, growing inequality, the impact of rapid technological innovation and mass migration. Organized crime cuts across all of these issues: it is either an enabler of these trends or profits from them. It grows in the cracks of our fractured world.

For example, criminals traffic weapons into or out of conflict zones from Afghanistan to Ukraine, and from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudan. Criminal groups are increasingly being used as a tool of statecraft to undermine opponents, prop up or topple governments, or carry out hybrid or proxy warfare. They are contributing to the destruction of our natural environment through illegal logging, overfishing and the illegal dumping of waste. They prey on the poor through extortion or by luring victims into human trafficking. Through ‘organized corruption’, state-embedded criminal actors are using all possible means to hang on to power and dole out patronage at the expense of public resources and institutions. Furthermore, criminals are quick to adapt to the latest technology, harnessing ransomware and artificial intelligence, or moving money or sending messages using encryption.

The latest edition of the Global Organized Crime Index (2023) reveals that greater attention must be devoted to addressing financial crime – now ranked as the biggest criminal market in the world. Furthermore, it is vital to identify and disrupt the role of professional facilitators in the private and public sectors who are at the interface of illicit and licit markets.

In short, there is a continued and urgent need for research and action around organized crime to promote new thinking and responses to understand criminal markets, actors and the ecosystems that enable them and to strengthen community resilience and trans-border cooperation. This is not a fringe issue; it goes to the heart of enhancing international peace and security, promoting sustainable development, improving governance of the global commons, reducing the impact of environmental degradation and enhancing multilateral cooperation (for example in the context of the Summit of the Future).

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