Chapter 5: Criminality and costs: the human toll of transnational environmental crime
The trafficking of environmental commodities poses a significant and immediate risk to people whose natural environment is exploited and affected through criminal activity that derives profit from the illicit trade in natural resources and the illegal disposal of toxic and hazardous chemicals and wastes. The detrimental effects of this unlawful trade are not only felt within the communities where these illegal endeavours take place, but the process by which those involved operate transnationally (that is, across state borders) means that the consequences of environmental crime are experienced globally. While some of these activities represent opportunistic and unsystematic crime, the trafficking of environmental commodities transnationally has been facilitated through the globalization of banking and financial systems, and technology and trade. The increasingly transnational and structured processes involved in the cross-border traffic of illegally sourced and/or traded environmental commodities has seen increased involvement of well-organized and well-financed criminal groups. Nevertheless, as Ayling (2013, p. 68) points out, some illicit chains of custody are little more than ‘opportunistic collectivities set up solely for the purpose of committing an offence’ such as those comprising local villagers in the poaching of wildlife as a means of survival. Where organized crime groups are involved – and not all transnational environmental crime (TEC) necessarily involves such organized groups – the profits gained from the illicit trade in environmental commodities have been directed back into transnational criminal networks, increasing the reach of these organizations and further reinforcing their illegal activities through, primarily, the exploitation of the environment and communities in resource-rich areas often already destabilized by poverty and weak governance. The transnational trade of illegally sourced and/or traded wildlife and hazardous materials has not only increased the resilience and pervasiveness of these crimes and strengthened the criminal organizations involved and their networks, but has also had significant ramifications for poverty, development and governance. This chapter focuses on the human toll of TEC. It moves beyond consideration of the adverse effect that TEC has on the environment and on natural resources that is covered in other chapters to address its challenges for human security and its cost to human health and safety, losses to state revenue and individual livelihoods, lost development opportunities, particularly as they affect people, and damage to the social and cultural fabric of communities.
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