Resource related crimes, such as the wildlife trade, illegal logging, and electrical waste produce over $23 billion in illicit proceeds, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) saidin its Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment for East Asia and the Pacific.
A growing middle class and increased demand for luxuries has spurred demand for illegal wildlife for food, pets, medicines, and decoration. China is the largest market for illegal wildlife trade, the report said. Endangered and protected animals and animal products -- including bears, reptiles, and sharks -- are imported. Asian countries also want ivory and have contributed to increased poaching levels in Africa, UNODC said . Wildlife poaching occurs openly in many cases, and has been facilitated by the rise of Internet commerce, the report concluded.
In contrast to the illegal wildlife trade, which is often conducted in secrecy, consumers who buy wood and wood-based products are often unaware that the products are illegal, the report said. Indonesia and Malaysia are important sources for illegal wood; processing of the wood takes place largely China and Vietnam. The report valued the illegal wood and wood-based products trade at approximately $17 billion. Official corruption plays a “central role” in the illegal logging industry as the success of the illicit trade relies on bribery and the ability to ensure unhindered transport. For this reason, very little illegal wood is seized, the UNODC report said.
A byproduct of the wireless era, electronic waste (e-waste), is the “fastest growing waste stream in the world,” the report said. The rapid advancement of technology caused a high turnover of electronic goods, especially in the richer countries. To avoid the cost that proper disposal and recycling would require, e-waste is diverted to the black market, where environmentally unsound “so-called” recycling occurs. The report mentions a number of risks, including pollution caused by burnt plastic, lead, and other toxins. China is the largest destination for e-waste; the illegal industry as a whole is worth around $3.75 billion.
The report also touched on the continuing threat posed by the illegal trade in ozone depleting substances (ODS). While harmful to the environment, ODS are highly sought after as cheap coolants for refrigerators and air conditioning. ODS include chlorofluorocarbons, which are controlled under the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to limit the use of certain types of ODS. Under the Montreal Protocol, developing nations were given longer to phase out the use of ODS than developed nations, which caused a black market to emerge. Attempts to control illegal trade in ODS between developing and developed nations through licensing and registration programs, efforts have been hamstrung by a lack of routine cross-checks between nations of origin and arrival, according to the report. Mis-declaration, hidden shipments and false labeling exacerbate the problem.
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