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Appendix 3 Definitions

Defining organized crime

Any index is a composite measure of variables using various data points. In the context of measuring organized crime, the parameters that this Index relies on are informed by definitions of organized crime, and related activities and concepts.

Organized crime, however, is a notoriously difficult concept to define. Although there is an awareness that the phenomenon exists everywhere, there are multiple forms of crime, enabled by different actors that fluctuate and adapt to various environments. In 2003, the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), the principal international instrument against organized crime, came into force, compelling member states to consider a definition for organized crime. Unable to reach a consensus, however, the UNTOC does not actually provide a definition, but rather offers clarity on two constants within the broad context of organized crime.

The terms ‘organized criminal group’ and ‘serious offence’, outlined in the convention, offer the basic conditions for an activity to be deemed to be organized crime and the flexibility to address the widest possible range of concerns. For example, an organized criminal group may refer to a broad range of criminal associations, from hierarchal structures to loosely connected networks. Likewise, the convention’s focus on the term ‘serious offence’ ensures a distinction is maintained between low-level criminality and organized criminal activity. Moreover, the convention specifically speaks to activities that are profit-driven, allowing for policies and responses to distinguish organized crime from solely politically motivated actions, such as terrorism. Today the consensus among the convention’s member states is increasingly to refrain from definitional debates surrounding the term ‘organized crime’ and accept that it is flexible, that it refers to a broad spectrum of ever-changing activities and circumstances, and that there are many ways in which the label ‘organized crime’ can be understood and conceptualized.

Nevertheless, for an index to offer true insight and value, some form of definition is essential. While relying (though not exclusively) on international instruments to define various criminal markets, the Index considers both transnational organized crimes as well organized criminal activities occurring within state boundaries.

Organized crime
For the purpose of the Global Organized Crime Index, ‘organized crime’ is defined as illegal activities conducted by groups or networks acting in concert, by engaging in violence, corruption or related activities in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or material benefit. Such activities may be carried out both within a country and transnationally.

By defining organized crime in this way, the Index allows for a wide range of activities and perpetrators to be considered and measured. One key point to note in this definition is the issue of legality. Activities that are not designated as illegal or that have been legalized in a country fall outside of the scope of the assessment of that particular country, even if considered illegal in another. At the same time, activities that are not illegal but that violate international human rights standards are included under the Index.

Criminal market definitions


Human trafficking

Drawing from a range of sources, the Index covers human trafficking within a modern slavery context and includes the trafficking of human organs. In line with common interpretations of human trafficking, this criminal market does not require the movement of individuals, and includes men, women and children. When movement is involved, it may include both cross-border and internal flows (such as from rural to urban locations). For the purposes of the Index, human trafficking includes activity, means and purpose, and reflects all stages of the illicit activity, from recruitment and transfer, to harbouring and receipt of persons. To distinguish this market from that of human smuggling, trafficking in persons involves a form of coercion, deception, abduction or fraud, and is carried out for the purpose of exploitation, regardless of the victim’s consent. In line with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UNTOC, exploitation includes, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Human smuggling

Under the Index, human smuggling is defined as the criminalization of the illegal entry, transit or residence of migrants (by land, sea or air) by an organized criminal group for the purposes of a financial or material benefit. Activity in this criminal economy reflects all stages of the illicit activity, including producing, procuring, providing or possessing fraudulent travel or identity documents when committed for the purpose of enabling the smuggling of migrants. Although they are distinct crimes that are defined in different ways, human smuggling may turn into trafficking when the element of exploitation is involved.

Extortion and protection racketeering

Crimes of protection and extortion linked to an organized crime group or groups that exert control over a given territory or market – either legal or illegal – include:

  • Activities of organized extortion, where the extortioner asks for money or other utility/benefit in exchange for a purposefully fake, fabricated or real need for protection (with or without an extortion request)
  • Cartel racketeering, where an organized crime group acts as intermediary or mediator by handling external competition and solving disputes as gatekeeper by controlling access and exit to and from key markets

The definition does not include such acts when committed by state officials (in which case, it is included under various markets, including corruption).


Arms trafficking

The trafficking of arms involves the import, export, acquisition, sale, delivery, movement or transfer of arms, their parts and components and ammunition across national borders, as well as intentional diversion of firearms from legal to illegal commerce, without involving the movement of items across physical borders. ‘Firearms’ refers to any portable barrelled weapon that expels, is designed to expel or may be readily converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive, excluding antique firearms or their replicas, as per the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the UNTOC. ‘Small arms’ and ‘light weapons’ refer to a range of specific weapons, as outlined by the Small Arms Survey. Often, the trafficking of arms facilitates the commission of other organized crime activities.

Trade in counterfeit goods

Refers to the production, transport, storage, distribution and sale of counterfeit goods. Counterfeit goods are either deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled with respect to identity and/or source, or fraudulent imitations of registered brands and involve the theft of a trademark.

Illicit trade in excisable goods

This market involves the illicit transport, distribution and sale of excise consumer goods, with the exception of oil (which is included under non-renewable resource crimes). An illicit market exists where the product is either transported or sold illegally (i.e. despite prohibition) or where the product is distributed outside regulated processes, the regulated trade market or the legal regulatory framework (e.g. for the purposes of tax evasion). This market does not include trade in counterfeit versions of such products (which falls under trade in counterfeit goods).


Flora crimes

Crimes related to flora involve the illicit trade as well as possession of species covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well as other species protected under national law.

Fauna crimes

Like flora crimes, crimes involving fauna species entail the poaching and illicit trade in animals and animal products, as well as the possession of species or animal products covered by CITES or protected by national law. The Index also considers protected marine species, and IUU fishing falls under this category.

Non-renewable resource crimes

The Index includes the illicit extraction, smuggling, mingling, bunkering or mining of natural resources. It also covers any illicit activities related to trade in such products, including price misinvoicing. The Index covers commodities including, but not limited to, oil, gold, gas, gemstones, diamonds and precious metals.


Heroin trade

The Index covers the production, distribution and sale of heroin. Consumption of the drug, while not in itself a form of organized crime, was considered in determining the reach of the illicit drug market. Synthetic opioids are considered under the synthetic drugs category (see below).

Cocaine trade

Like heroin, the production, distribution and sale of cocaine and its derivatives are covered by the Index. Consumption of the drug, while not in itself a form of organized crime, was considered in determining the reach of the illicit drug market.

Cannabis trade

The illicit cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis oil, resin, herb or leaves are covered by the Index. Consumption of the drug, while not in itself a form of organized crime, was considered in determining the reach of the illicit drug market. Recognizing the growing legalization of cannabis production, sale and consumption, the Index focused solely on areas where an activity was criminalized and/or where criminal groups were involved in the supply chain.

Synthetic drug trade

As with other illicit drug markets, the production, distribution and sale of synthetic drugs are covered by the Index. Notably, synthetic opioids, such as tramadol, as well as amphetamine-type stimulants, methamphetamines and fentanyl are included in this criminal market, as well as any other narcotic included in the 1972 Protocol, Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. Consumption of such drugs, while not in itself a form of organized crime, was considered in determining the reach of the illicit drug market. Notably, ‘substandard and falsified medical products’, as outlined by the World Health Organization, have been excluded.

Cyber-dependent crimes

Defined as organized crimes that are dependent on the use of a computer, computer network or other forms of information communications technology (ICT). These include the spread of viruses or other malware, hacking, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, ransomware and cryptocurrency fraud. These activities are considered to be conducted for the purpose of obtaining a monetary or material benefit (as opposed to a political or ideological objective).

Financial crimes

Refers to organized crime that results in a financial loss to the state, entity and/or private individuals through one or more of the following activities –

  • Financial fraud: this refers to cases where money and/or financial assets are obtained through deception, including, but not limited to, procurement fraud, identity fraud, mass marketing fraud, banking fraud, Ponzi schemes, etc.
  • Tax evasion (including activities such as price misinvoicing) and abusive tax avoidance: this refers to the use of illegal means to avoid paying taxes. It occurs when the taxpayer either evades assessment or evades payment. When committing price misinvoicing, the profit-maximizing actor will either over- or under-invoice and the misdeclaration depends on the relative tax and tariff rates. Tax avoidance is to be distinguished from tax evasion, where, in the case of the latter, someone acts against the law or abuses the letter of the law. By contrast, abusive tax avoidance complies with the letter of the law, but subverts its purpose.
  • Embezzlement: this involves the fraudulent appropriation of property or funds entrusted to an individual for their management and safekeeping, with the intention of using these assets for personal benefit. It differs from regular fraud because the actor who takes the money or property has trusted and legitimate access to the valuables before they take them for their own use.
  • Misuse of funds: this refers to the misapplication of funds from state, international or regional bodies for purposes other than those for which they were originally granted.

To be considered financial fraud, the aforementioned activities must be committed by an organized crime group for the purpose of financial gain or professional advantage. Such activities, when attributable to another criminal market under the Index, fall under that respective market indicator. For example, procurement fraud for logging contracts would fall under flora crimes.

The laundering of illicit proceeds and bribery are not included in this category, as explained in Appendix 2.

Criminal actor definitions

Mafia-style groups

Refers to clearly defined, organized criminal groups. This typology also includes militia and guerrilla groups that are primarily funded by illicit activities. There are four defining features of a mafia-style group: a known name, a defined leadership, territorial control and identifiable membership.

Criminal networks

Refers to a loose network of criminal associates engaging in criminal activities. This also includes relatively small groups that do not control territory and are not widely known by a name or with a known leader. Criminal networks are involved in illicit trafficking of commodities but do not have territorial control or any of the other defining features of mafia-style groups. In essence, criminal networks and entrepreneurs are defined by their failure to meet the defining characteristics of mafia-style groups.

State-embedded actors

Refers to criminal actors that are embedded in, and act from within, the state’s apparatus.

Foreign actors

Refers to state or non-state criminal actors operating outside their home country. In addition to foreign nationals, this may also in some instances include individuals forming part of a diaspora group that has established roots in the country.

Private sector actors

Refers to profit-seeking individuals or entities who own, manage or control a segment of the legal economy free from state ownership or control, that collaborate or cooperate with criminal actors wilfully, through coercion or neglect. Activities include, but are not limited to, the laundering of illicit proceeds, acting as informants and legal representation through unethical means.

Resilience indicator definitions

Leadership and governance

Political leadership and governance

Refers to the role a state’s government plays in responding to organized crime and its effectiveness in doing so. Strong political leadership and governance indicate higher state resilience to organized crime.

Governments orient citizens toward a state’s stance on organized crime, championing its role in combating the phenomenon by laying the foundation to implement action. The platform in which anti-organized crime rhetoric is made reflects to some degree the level of prioritization of organized crime on the national agenda.

Governance serves as a function of the relationship between the state and its governed populations. Leaders that are seen as legitimate in their intent and actions unify society. People’s confidence in those who govern them can be directly linked to conflict in a society. The presence of organized crime can tangibly reduce the capacity for governance and the legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the population. When there is no or little confidence in government, society can become unstable, creating (further) opportunities for organized crime to fill the governance void between the state and its populations.

The Index defines ‘resilience’ as the ability to withstand and disrupt organized criminal activities as a whole, rather than individual markets, through political, economic, legal and social measures. Resilience refers to countries’ measures taken by both the state and non-state actors.

Government transparency and accountability

Refers to the degree to which states have put oversight mechanisms in place to ensure against state collusion in illicit activities – in other words, whether or not the state creates opportunities for the reduction of state corruption and to obscure the illegitimate control over power or resources, including resources linked to organized crime.

As representatives of their citizens, governments are entrusted with powers to oversee and maintain the rule and order of societies. When this contract is abused, it both undermines citizens’ trust in state institutions (which may lead to vulnerabilities to organized crime) and can imply state collusion in organized crime. Efforts to increase transparency, such as adequately resourcing anti-corruption measures, work to close opportunities in which organized criminals may exert their influence. Thus, the more transparent governments are, the more resilient a state is to organized crime.

International cooperation

Refers to the structures and processes of interaction, policymaking and concrete implementation by countries beyond the national level in order to respond to organized crime. Strong international cooperation indicates high levels of state resilience to organized crime.

As organized crime is increasingly a transnational phenomenon, with actors and supply chains able to span national and continental boundaries, it is essential that states work together on a global scale to combat the threat.

The ratification (and timeliness of ratification) of relevant international organized crime treaties implies state willingness to effectuate responses to organized crime, in line with international standards. These treaties are:

  • The UNTOC and its three protocols
  • The UN Convention against Corruption
  • The UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988
  • The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
  • The Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971
  • The Arms Trade Treaty

At the international level, for states parties, these instruments constitute sufficient legal grounds to carry out response measures to organized crime. Such responses include cooperation in criminal matters, particularly mutual legal assistance, extradition, the transfer of sentenced prisoners and transborder asset confiscation. The presence of such structures and policies, and evidence of their effective use, implies a higher degree of state resilience to organized crime.

National policies and laws

International cooperation is an essential component to combating organized crime because it sets the basis for national responses. Thus, national policies and laws refer to state legal action and structures put in place to respond to organized crime. National organized crime strategies and legislation are adapted to the needs of the state, its legal tradition and social, economic cultural and geographic conditions. As such, the presence of these reflects higher state resilience to organized crime.

Criminal justice and security

Judicial system and detention

Refers to a state’s judiciary’s power to effectively try to enforce judgments on organized crime-related cases. The ability of a country’s judicial system to do so depends on whether it is adequately resourced and operates independently and effectively at all points along the juridical chain. Although passing judgment on cases is its primary function, the ability to enforce is also an essential component of a judiciary’s activities. Things such as evidence that key organized crime leaders are successfully prosecuted and, in particular the degree of organized crime influence from within the prison system, are factors to consider in assessing a state’s judicial capacity. Where the prison system has been captured by organized crime, this should significantly impact the score. Thus, while having more resources and independence to pass judgment on organized crime cases implies higher state resilience, high impunity implies lower state resilience.

Law enforcement

Refers to the state’s ability to investigate, gather intelligence, protect and enforce adherence to its rules and procedures regarding organized crime. As the front line of a state’s criminal justice system, law enforcement and intelligence are often in direct contact with organized criminal activities. In order to bring criminal perpetrators to justice, the capacity of a state’s law enforcement to combat organized crime rests on things such as whether it is adequately resourced, and whether the state has invested in law enforcement mechanisms that are specifically organized-crime-focused. It follows therefore that greater law enforcement capacity makes a state more resilient to organized crime.

Territorial integrity

Refers to the degree to which states are able to control their territory and infrastructure against organized criminal activities, including the capacity to carry out effective border control.

A country’s physical location and geography may increase the risk of exploitation by organized criminal groups. For example, lengthy borders are less likely to be regulated effectively, and criminals are therefore more likely to take advantage by smuggling illicit commodities and people unnoticed. Moreover, the level of a state’s economic engagement internationally, marked by things such as its port and airport infrastructure, can increase the ease with which goods and people can move (both legitimately and illegally) between countries.

As such, the greater the resources and infrastructure put in place by states to manage their territorial integrity against organized crime, the higher its resilience.

Economic and financial

Anti-money laundering

Refers to a state’s ability to implement legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering and other related threats to the integrity of its financial system.

Profits that criminals make from organized crime are often concealed by being funnelled through legitimate businesses. Through the development of anti-money-laundering mechanisms, states become more resilient to the threat of money laundering, which potentially underlies all forms of organized crime.

The Financial Action Task Force is a policymaking body that has developed a series of recommendations that are recognized as the international standard for combating money laundering, the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These form the basis for a coordinated response to these threats to the financial system. States are assessed through mutual country evaluations to determine their level of compliance with these standards. The higher compliance, the more resilient states are to organized crime.

Economic regulatory capacity

Refers to the ability to control and manage the economy, and to regulate financial and economic transactions (both nationally and internationally) so that trade is able to flourish within the confines of the rule of law. In other words, these determine whether an actor has put into place and can effectively oversee the mechanisms that ensure economic transactions and businesses operate in a predictable, fair way, free from distortion, including criminal activities such as extortion and illicit taxation.

When actors are able to formulate and implement sound policies and regulations that permit and promote private sector development, it allows for options and opportunities for legitimate, regulated business to expand. This, in turn, reduces the incentive for informal, illegal business to arise, or for criminal groups to unduly influence economic forces, through alternative regulation, extortion or criminal practice.

States under protracted sanctions by the international community have been shown to develop illicit means by which to circumvent or mitigate the impact of those sanctions.

The larger the number of sound economic regulations that are in place and the lower number of (and duration of) sanctions placed on a state, the higher resilience a country has to organized crime.

Civil society and social protection

Victim and witness support

Refers to the existence of assistance provided to victims of various forms of organized crime (for example, human trafficking, drug trafficking, extortion or fraud).

Support mechanisms, treatment programmes for victims, as well as resources allocated to these initiatives create an environment in which citizens are able to recover more quickly from the effects of organized criminal activities.

Moreover, initiatives such as witness protection programmes are essential, and often the only way to successfully prosecute organized criminals. The more effective the support programmes that are put in place, the more resilient states are to organized crime.


Refers to the existence of strategies, measures, resource allocation, programmes and processes that are aimed to inhibit organized crime. While prevention considers mainly state initiatives, these frameworks often use a holistic approach to preventive measures through community outreach, recognizing that citizens that are engaged in prevention to organized crime help make the state more resilient.

Through prevention, states can build safeguards to protect against organized crime by effecting behavioural change in vulnerable groups and reducing the demand for illicit activities. Thus, the more robust a state’s prevention scheme is, the more resilient it is to organized crime.

Non-state actors

From a resilience perspective, non-state actors play a role in responding to organized crime by supplementing government initiatives and by ensuring ‘checks and balances’ are applied to governments to guarantee resilience to organized crime. The non-state actors indicator is also a measure of the degree to which civil society organizations are able and allowed to play a role in responding to organized crime across the spectrum, from victim support to crime prevention.

Civil society organizations are engaged in local communities, where ownership of initiatives against organized crime is formed, leading to more sustainable response measures. Similarly, the media is critical in the role it plays holding governments to account while providing a voice for communities by mobilizing civil society against the threat of organized crime. Thus, the more civil society capacity a state has, the more resilient it is to organized crime.