Following the launch of the Global Organised Crime Index, MIDEQ researcher Yvonne Khor Gee Weon reflects on her experiences and discusses how the index can be used to tackle topics such as trafficking and smuggling of migrants.
The Global Organized Crime Index (OCIndex) stands as a vital instrument that aids in our comprehension and evaluation of the prevalence and impact of organised crime on a global scale. It provides an extensive overview of diverse transnational criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and cybercrime. The OCIndex assesses the strengths and vulnerabilities of 193 UN member states concerning these criminal activities while also evaluating the level of criminality within countries' markets.
The 2023 cohort of the OCIndex illuminated a global scenario in which nations and their populations have grown increasingly vulnerable to organised crimes. This heightened vulnerability can be attributed to the effects of poverty and inequality, and the rapid advancement of technology. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing issues, including inequality, the well-being of individuals, and the fragility of government policies and measures aimed at countering illicit economies.
In addition to the existing 10 criminal market indicators in 2021, the OCIndex 2023 underwent refinement by incorporating five new measurement indicators. Furthermore, it considered the involvement of private sector actors, such as intermediaries and businesses, in their newfound roles as contributors to criminal activities.
Source: The 2023 Global Organized Crime Index, 26 Sept. 2023
Criminal actors, global averages 2021 vs 2023
Source: The 2023 Global Organized Crime Index, 26 Sept. 2023
The South Asian context
The OCIndex has revealed that South Asian countries have experienced an increase in criminality levels, with scores rising by 5.82 and 5.46, respectively, compared to the Asia region's average score of 5.47. Notably, trafficking in persons and human smuggling remains the most prevalent among the 15 illicit economies in the region.
Based on the profiles of Nepal and Malaysia within the index, a substantial portion of Nepali migrant workers find themselves trapped in situations of forced labour when they migrate to countries like Malaysia, the Gulf states, and India. Reflecting this, research conducted by MIDEQ Malaysia has revealed that whilst migration and inequality may not directly lead to organised crime, they establish circumstances that expose migrants and communities to exploitation and criminal activities. For instance, the significant economic disparities both within and between Nepal and Malaysia compel Nepali migrant workers to seek improved livelihood and break the poverty cycle through overseas employment. These workers frequently originate from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, heightening their vulnerability. This vulnerability can be capitalised upon by organised criminal private sector actors, such as brokers and sub-agents, who make deceptive employment promises. As a result, Nepali migrant workers frequently find themselves ensnared in heavy debt due to the cost of migration, unclear about their employment status (forced labour) and various forms of exploitation.
Prior to the global launch in September 2023 by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), a closed-door and in-person meeting was convened in Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting brought GI-TOC's Asia Pacific members together to disseminate the 2023 Index results. I had the privilege of participating in the pre-launch presentation and shared my perspective on the OCIndex.
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Awareness and Advocacy: The index serves as a powerful tool in raising awareness about the pervasive nature of organised crime and its far-reaching consequences. It urges governments and international organisations to take decisive action against these criminal activities. The OCIndex underscores the importance of multi-stakeholder cooperation in combating transnational organised crimes and advocates for comparative analysis and information sharing among nations.
Policy Focus: By offering insights into the extent of organised crime, the OCIndex can guide policymakers in prioritising efforts to combat these criminal activities. This, in turn, aids in the allocation of resources and expertise to where they are most needed, resulting in more effective policy implementation and enhanced resilience for countries.
However, it is essential to note the following caveats to the report:
Focus on Symptoms, Not Causes: While the index highlights the extent of organised crime, it does not explore deeply the root causes that enable these criminal activities to thrive, such as social and economic inequality, poverty, and political instability. In the recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment and job opportunities remain the most prominent global challenges on top of digital technologies and online platforms where criminals have seized new opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities. Instead of imposing one-size-fits-all solutions, international organisations should focus on offering valuable resources, sharing best practices, and facilitating the exchange of experiences to Asian countries that face higher vulnerability to organised crimes.
Response and Adaptation: The index might unconsciously promote a reactive approach, where countries focus on improving their rankings without addressing underlying issues or developing long-term strategies. It is crucial to ensure that efforts are not ad-hoc but sustained and comprehensive. In cases where victims of trafficking or smuggling are identified, for instance, businesses and recruitment agencies can play a pivotal role in ensuring their safety and providing access to support services. This includes facilitating connections with legal assistance, counselling, and safe repatriation services.
In summary, the OCIndex serves as a valuable tool for shedding light on the global challenge of organised crime. However, it is essential to view the index as a starting point for informed discussions, policy considerations, and collaborative efforts aimed at addressing the complicated and evolving nature of organised criminal activities.
To harness the full potential of the index, it should be supplemented with evidence-based data and studies, facilitating a stronger connection between the root causes of issues like migration and inequality and the resulting consequences, such as human trafficking and people smuggling.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect the view of the university or any organisations.