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Changing organized crime dynamics and comparing datasets

This section analyzes how the Index results compare with various economic and socio-political indicators. These sets of indicators, whose scores vary between continents and regions, often reflect how organized crime emerges and develops.

Factors such as a country’s level of technological advancement, state resources and social inequality can shape how an environment might become conducive for criminal actors to exploit. Certain global phenomena, such as climate change, also play a hand in how the organized crime landscape develops, at least in certain vulnerable regions.

The analysis conducted for this Index has not only reaffirmed existing organized crime dynamics but also shed light on emerging trends that warrant close attention. In addition, the 2023 results allow us to introduce a new dimension to our analysis – developments and patterns that become visible over time. Having an insight into these evolving dynamics allows for a better interpretation of what may lie ahead. One crucial finding is the widening gap between criminality and resilience. What vulnerabilities – economic, political and social – contribute to this growing divide? Are authoritarian regimes, for example, more likely to have witnessed an increase in criminality? And what other factors are connected to a country’s fluctuating levels of criminality and resilience?

The purpose of this exercise is not to establish definitive causal relationships, but rather to shed light on the complex interplay of economic, political and social factors that shape a country’s susceptibility to organized crime or contribute to its resilience. While factors such as political instability, corruption and unemployment may be directly linked to levels of criminality in certain regions, their impact is more ambiguous in others. Likewise, progress in technological and trade development may contribute to a decline in certain illicit economies while simultaneously fuelling others. Recognizing these relationships and complexities provides a starting point for policymakers, law enforcement and civil society to develop tailored responses to organized crime, emphasizing the need to adapt approaches to the ever-changing economic and political landscapes.

For the analysis in this section, the following datasets were assessed:

  • Global Peace Index 2022
  • Human Development Index 2021
  • Democracy Index 2022
  • Corruption Perceptions Index 2022
  • Fragile States Index 2022
  • Global Climate Risk Index 2021
  • Intentional homicide rates (UNODC, 2019, latest data available)
  • Income inequality (taken from the Gini Index, World Bank, latest data available)
  • GDP current (World Bank, latest data available)
  • GDP per capita (World Bank, latest data available)
  • IUU Fishing Index 2021
  • Rule of Law 2023

Economic, socio-economic and geographical vulnerabilities


Figure 7.1

Correlation coefficients between criminality and selected indicators, by continent

In terms of economic vulnerabilities, the results of the 2023 Index largely reaffirm the conclusions drawn in the previous iteration, namely that a country’s economic activity, as measured by its total GDP, is not tied to criminality levels. In other words, wealthier countries are generally no more or less susceptible to organized crime than poorer countries. When looking at GDP per capita, however, the picture is less well defined. On the one hand, high economic performance can create opportunities for prosperity and development, and reduce certain vulnerabilities to organized crime, such as individuals’ motivations for participating in illicit markets. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily mean that wealthy countries can expect less criminality. Indeed, in some cases, positive developments, such as economic growth, can have a dual effect. While they may contribute to combating certain illicit economies, paradoxically, they can also expose society to a new set of organized crime risks.

The five new criminal markets included in this Index – cyber-dependent crimes, financial crimes, illicit trade in excisable goods, trade in counterfeit goods, and extortion and protection racketeering – have provided a more nuanced understanding of the interplay between levels of criminality and economic performance. In the previous iteration of the Index, the data showed a negative correlation (−0.35) between a country’s GDP per capita and the pervasiveness of criminality. With the inclusion of the new indicators, this correlation strength has dropped to −0.28.1 This can be partly explained by the fact that increased economic output may be coupled with certain characteristics, such as the development of financial hubs and advanced ICT systems, which can be inherently conducive to certain criminal markets. In other words, economic advancement may alleviate certain organized crime risks but simultaneously pave the way for others. This vulnerability is particularly pronounced in areas with minimal regulatory oversight or susceptibility to corruption.

The relationship between economic indicators and criminal activity can be further understood when one looks at individual criminal markets. The Index results show that financial crimes are pervasive in 172 of the world’s 20 largest economies (scoring 6.0 or higher, which indicates a ‘significant to severe influence’). This also illustrates that wealthy countries are not immune to organized crime. Furthermore, cyber-dependent crime is also found to correlate positively to GDP per capita across nearly all continents, with the exception of Europe. This does not mean, however, that other countries are exempt from these criminal markets. As the world is increasingly moving into online spaces, more so since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous countries have, irrespective of their economic performance, experienced a surge in criminal activities taking place online, such as financial fraud and hacking activity.3

At the same time, GDP and GDP per capita tell us little about how income and wealth are distributed among society, which is important to consider. Limited opportunities for sustainable livelihoods – typically measured in the form of high rates of poverty and unemployment, and high income inequality – have long been linked to the flourishing of illicit economies.4 In many economically marginalized areas, individuals may find themselves compelled to engage in illicit markets to survive, making illicit economies simultaneously central to the livelihoods of many worldwide. The Index analysis reaffirms such notions, finding a correlation of 0.26 between income inequality5 and criminality, and a correlation of 0.29 between income inequality and criminal actors. While such correlations are weak, a closer look shows a discrepancy in various parts of the world. In Oceania, for example, income inequality correlates moderately with criminality (0.40), whereas in Africa there was found to be no correlation between the two.6

Similar results are found when criminality is assessed against the Human Development Index, which measures a country’s performance across various socio-economic indicators, including life expectancy, education and gross national income. A correlation, albeit a weak one, between human development and criminality (−0.25) is observed, meaning that human development at the individual level plays a role although only to a weak degree in a country’s criminality levels. The direction of causality between the two variables remains uncertain, however, with both factors potentially influencing each other.

As well as economic indicators, the analysis examined the impact of geographic factors on criminality. These findings reaffirm those of the previous Index, highlighting a weak positive relationship between criminality and population size (0.21) and surface level size (0.21). In other words, countries that are large in terms of territory or population are only slightly more likely to have higher levels of criminality. Certain regions do, however, reveal an increased vulnerability to organized crime as a result of their geographical and natural characteristics. On the African continent, for example, criminality is moderately correlated with both population size and country size (0.53). Countries with very large surface areas and long borders that are difficult to monitor encounter significant control challenges stemming from weaker governance, heightened insecurity and difficult natural terrains, which make effective surveillance challenging. Moreover, heightened vulnerability can arise from proximity to neighbouring countries that are heavily affected by organized crime and when countries lie along major illicit trade routes. In contrast, smaller states, with limited access to natural resources for exploitation, tend to exhibit lower susceptibility to organized crime.7


Figure 7.2

Correlation coefficients between resilience and selected indicators, by continent

As we have seen, the relationship between economic indicators and criminality is complex, as economic development may alleviate certain vulnerabilities while giving rise to others. In terms of resilience, however, the link is less ambiguous. Mirroring the findings of the previous Index, the 2023 findings reveal a positive correlation between resilience and GDP per capita, namely 0.57. This indicates that countries with higher GDP per capita tend to exhibit greater levels of resilience to organized crime. While this relationship can be considered moderate, all twelve resilience indicators show statistical significance.

The reasoning is straightforward: countries that have more financial revenue at their disposal are generally in a better position to allocate resources to tackling the root drivers of organized crime, and protecting its citizens from it, for example by the strengthening of civil society or implementing drug harm reduction facilities. Of the resilience indicators, none exemplifies this as strongly as ‘victim and witness support’, which is significantly correlated with GDP per capita at 0.63. This observation shows that, in wealthy countries, individuals especially vulnerable to criminal activities, such as victims and witnesses, are more likely to have adequate support.

The finding that higher economic output per capita is linked to higher resilience does not always hold, however. Numerous countries provide evidence to the contrary. Russia, for example, which ranks among the top 15 economies, has a low resilience score of 3.79. Turkey (3.38) is another example. The country may be an economic powerhouse of Western Asia, yet it ranks among the lowest for resilience in the region.8 Moreover, even when countries have the capacity and willingness to invest resources in combating organized crime, this does not always equate to improvements in their reservoirs of resilience. The Philippines provides a striking example of this. Despite its multi-billion-dollar investments over the years to wage its war on drugs, the Philippines continues to receive a low score (4.21) for resilience, which improved by just 0.08 since the last Index.

Other socio-economic indicators besides GDP are needed to provide a more comprehensive picture of a country’s ability to become resilient, or maintain resilience, to organized crime. Human development is one such indicator that is highly correlated to resilience, with 0.72. A higher level of human development indicates that a country has invested in the social and economic well-being of its people, which strengthens its capacity to address the root causes of organized crime. While the direction of causality between the two variables remains uncertain, there is nevertheless a clear link, with both resilience and human development having the capacity to mutually shape and influence one another.

In terms of inequality and resilience, the results find no statistically significant correlation. This shows that when countries experience considerable income disparities – which, as discussed before, may drive criminal participation in some cases – it does not play a role in determining a country’s ability to achieve, maintain or increase its resilience to organized crime.

Political and socio-political vulnerabilities

Figure 7.3

Correlation coefficients between criminality and resilience scores and selected indicators, by continent

The previous section examined the nuanced relationships between criminality and resilience, and economic and socio-economic indicators. Here, the 2023 results are measured against a country’s political and social environment, including regime types, political and civil freedoms, corruption, conflict and fragility, violence and climate change. Under assessment are questions such as, does state fragility indicate weak institutional mechanisms to combat organized crime? Are certain criminal markets more associated with violence than others? And can connections be determined between climate change and criminality?

The findings reaffirm those of the previous iteration, in that there continues to be a strong correlation between resilience to organized crime and the level of democratic freedoms a country allows its citizens (0.81). In other words, democracies for the most part exhibit higher levels of resilience than authoritarian states. The transparency and accountability inherent in democratic systems provide a robust framework for institutional mechanisms designed to combat organized crime. For example, constitutionally democratic states, with an independent judiciary, free media and strong civil society institutions, usually allow for effective regulatory processes, which reduce opportunities for corruption and enable law enforcement agencies to operate with independence and integrity.

This year’s data also found a correlation, albeit a weak one, between democracy and criminality (-0.36), suggesting that countries with greater democratic values are generally less susceptible to high levels of criminality. However, numerous countries provide evidence to the contrary. There are many examples of Western countries with high levels of democracy that also received high scores for criminality, namely Italy (6.22), Spain (5.90), France (5.82) and the United States (5.67). All four countries saw their criminality levels increase against the previous Index results.9

In a similar vein, there is a significant correlation of −0.46 between criminality and the Freedom in the World Index. This indicates that countries that uphold and prioritize the protection of political rights and civil liberties tend to exhibit lower levels of criminality. A few criminal markets in particular stand out here. Strong correlations were found between freedom and human trafficking (−0.65) and human smuggling (−0.50). This is hardly surprising: countries where political rights and civil liberties are compromised by prosecution, conflict or instability experience mass displacement as people seek security and freedom elsewhere.

An issue closely related to levels of democracy and freedom is corruption. From low-level corruption in law enforcement agencies, to impunity within the judicial system resulting from bribery, to direct involvement in illicit economies among office-holders at the highest political level, corruption plays an important role in a country’s susceptibility to organized crime, while also enabling criminal infiltration into the state apparatus.10 Unsurprisingly, the Index 2023 results found a very strong negative correlation between corruption perception and resilience (-0.90). Although the exact causal direction is not straightforward, the link between corruption and weak resilience is clear. Similarly, the findings reveal a moderate correlation between corruption and criminality (-0.51). What is perhaps less expected is the variation in the relationship between corruption and various criminal markets. In other words, certain illicit markets are more linked to corruption than others, these being primarily human smuggling, arms trafficking and non-renewable resource crimes. That these markets are closely linked to corruption may be explained by the role of state officials in monitoring cross-border movements and in managing regulatory schemes in key sectors.

Conflict has also long been recognized for its intersection with organized crime. Geographies characterized by conflict, violence and social unrest create an environment conducive to organized criminal activities. In such contexts, the breakdown of governance structures, weakened law enforcement and limited access to basic services provide fertile ground for criminal networks. The disruption of legal economies and displacement of populations during conflict create economic disparities and social dislocation, which can fuel criminal activities. Similarly, the absence of strong institutions and erosion of social cohesion can exacerbate the situation, as communities become more vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation by organized crime groups.

The findings underscore these notions. When looking at the countries that scored highest in terms of criminality, many have been mired in conflict and instability for decades, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. State fragility is conducive to organized crime, especially in terms of state-embedded criminal actors, when it allows for criminal groups to infiltrate the state. The data reveals that state fragility is closely linked to state-embedded actors (0.74), whose presence enables criminal markets to thrive amid corruption and limited governmental oversight. The criminal markets most closely tied to state fragility were found to be human trafficking (0.53) and non-renewable resource crimes (0.53).

Organized crime is commonly associated with violence and murder. Environments with illicit economies such as firearms and drug trafficking are notoriously prone to violence in the absence of effective law enforcement and judicial systems. Although there remains a challenge with the comprehensiveness of global homicide data across the world, the available statistics do support a moderate correlation between homicide rates and certain criminal markets, particularly cocaine trafficking (0.42) and arms trafficking (0.37), and to a lesser extent extortion and protection racketeering (0.30). Homicide and criminal markets show a tendency to mutually influence each other. Environments in which safety and development are jeopardized are conducive to illicit economies and, in the absence of effective law enforcement agencies and judiciary, this contributes to a high rate of homicide. In the case of drug markets, compromised safety has a detrimental impact on communities, creating an environment where individuals are not only more vulnerable to drug use, but where drug traffickers can also operate with impunity.

This notion is apparent when measuring homicide rates against changes in criminality over time. In Africa, for example, homicide is moderately correlated to changes in criminality (0.43), whereas in the Americas and Europe this correlation is −0.39 and 0.31 respectively. In Asia, however, the correlation is weak, at 0.19. Hence, in most parts of the world at least, countries that have seen their criminality increase are also likely to have high homicide rates.

Coral is carefully placed in a tank at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Homicide is tied not only to criminality, and changes in criminality over time, but also to a country’s resilience. This is the case in nearly all parts of the world. In Asia, for example, homicide rates are strongly tied to changes in resilience over time (−0.70). In other words, countries with higher homicide rates are more likely to have experienced a decrease in their resilience scores compared to 2021. Extreme violence generates insecurity and social instability, erodes the rule of law and hinders efforts to promote social development, ultimately undermining resilience. However, this does not imply a direct causal relationship. Notably, for Europe, Africa and Asia, no connection between changes in resilience and homicide rates was found.

The impact of climate change on organized crime and other aspects of society is becoming increasingly evident. This is reflected in the data when measuring the 2023 Index scores against the Global Climate Risk Index, in which a moderate correlation of 0.41 against criminality is observed. On a global level, countries are – albeit unevenly – impacted by climate change as it drives mass displacement, as extreme weather events, rising sea levels and environmental degradation force people to flee their homes in search of safer areas or a better livelihood. This also engenders criminal activities. In the aftermath of devastating climate-related events, criminal actors have exploited the vulnerable conditions, engaging in human trafficking and smuggling, and illicit resource extraction, perpetuating the cycle of environmental devastation and organized crime.

While the intensification of climate change-related disasters, including hurricanes, floods and droughts, are worldwide phenomena, the data also tells us that the link between climate change and criminality impacts certain parts of the world more than others. The relationship is strongest in Oceania, where the correlation is 0.55, followed by Asia (0.52), Africa (0.36) and America (0.31), while in Europe, it is only a weak correlation of 0.19. While the correlation between climate change risks and criminality varies according to region, it is important to acknowledge that this relationship has the potential to transform as climate change trends continue to develop over time.

  1. Correlation coefficients can be interpreted as follows: 0.00–0.10 negligible; 0.10–0.39 weak; 0.40–0.69 moderate; 0.70–0.89 strong; 0.90–1.00 very strong; all correlations mentioned in this section are statistically significant. 

  2. These are the US, China, Japan, Germany, India, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Indonesia, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. 

  3. INTERPOL, Preventing crime and protecting police: INTERPOL’s COVID-19 global threat assessment, 6 April 2020,

  4. For examples of case studies exploring the links between GDP and illicit economies, see Lilik Sugiharti et al, The nexus between crime rates, poverty, and income inequality: A case study of Indonesia, Economies, 11, 2 (2023),;; Cirenia Chávez Villegas, Poverty, aspirations, and organized crime involvement among adolescent men in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, in Gabriella Sanchez and Sheldon X Zhang (eds), Beyond Drugs, Smuggling and Trafficking: Violence, Victimization and Community Action in Mexico’s Criminal Landscape. London: Routledge, 2021,

  5. As measured by the Gini coefficient. 

  6. Correlation between Gini coefficient and criminality −0.16/insignificant against 0.05. 

  7. See also the 2021 iteration of the Global Organized Crime Index:

  8. Third lowest among the 14 countries in Western Asia. 

  9. Increases in criminality compared to the 2021 Global Organized Crime Index: the US (+0.17), France (+0.15), Italy (+0.41) and Spain (+0.13). 

  10. Correlation between corruption perception and criminality: -0.51; corruption perception and state-embedded criminal actors: 0.80.