She looked at the mouldy ceiling and saw how the moths were attracted to the light. They flew closer, in fascination, but never knew what was coming for them when they came too close to the electric glow of a bug zapper instead. And then the girl looks out the window and sees the neon signs which not so long ago she saw from afar. But now she is here. And there seems to be no way out of that miserable life of vice, violence and immorality even though they promised her something else, something better than this when she arrived on that day, which was so different from today when it seems she might as well just die as the moths do. 


Stories of misery like this are common in many parts of the world. Transnational crime, including human trafficking, still remains a scourge that has not only adapted to a globalising world but instead has capitalised on it.


The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim thought up the brilliant idea which he coined "anomie" or "normlessness". As rural and agrarian communities industrialise into urban ones, the social bonds between individuals fragment. Urban societies provide little moral guidance for individuals as compared to small communities and as such, urban communities see some of its individuals turning to more deviant and criminal paths just to survive and live another day.  


This was an idea thought of more than a century ago when the West was still in the process of industrialisation. Today, much of the world is going through the same phase of development and Durkheim's anomie which helps to explain crime remains just as relevant. Many of the world's poor are leaving for the cities to have a better chance at life, only to find themselves stuck in a mire with little social and economic support to lift themselves out of it. Some turn to crime for a living and others, tragically, find themselves at the receiving end of crime; forced into prostitution, modern slavery and so on.  


In most cases, criminal syndicates are motivated by economic incentives. Profit drives them to fill gaps in society where the state has failed. In Cambodia for example, grinding poverty and the lack of access to proper healthcare has led to a high demand for counterfeit medicine. Everything from counterfeit anti-malarial pills to antibiotics have been produced to meet local demand, creating a new set of problems including the risk of creating more drug-resistant pathogens. 


Of course now with the rise of online commerce, it is much harder for local authorities to stem the flow of counterfeit goods. Some drug syndicates have exploited e-commerce; allowing orders for their narcotics to be made online. 


While the paramount objective of every criminal syndicate is profit, for most, the challenge isn't how the money is collected from their consumers but rather, how to make the money earned from their illicit activities look as though it was earned through legal means. To, metaphorically, wash away the vice and the blood from the cash; or in proper terms: money-laundering. (The term itself came about when notorious American mob boss, Al Capone was known to purchase laundry shops to disguise his illegal profits with.)   


In many jurisdictions today, regulations to combat money-laundering are already in place. But the advent of new technologies in finance such as cryptocurrencies, are changing the game in favour of criminal groups. Cryptocurrencies function in a way that requires no middlemen in financial transactions between people. No need for any traditional commercial banks or remittance companies. Transactions are guaranteed through encoded computer algorithms, facilitating security and unfortunately, for law enforcement - anonymity. 


The ethical challenge when it comes to international finance is that, society and policymakers have to strike a balance between ensuring financial regulations are not too strict to the point of stifling innovation or free enterprise and preventing the financial system from not becoming a tool of transnational crime. In essense, a delicate balance between the core principles of private enterprise and justice for society. 


 Globalisation seems to be a natural step in the course of human development. Innovations we've seen from the telephone to the internet all share the overarching aim of bridging the vast distances between peoples. But globalisation, like most things in this world, comes with a price, at times in blood and suffering. Human traffickers are exploiting the large scale migrations of people away from the destitute corners of the world who were only in the search of a better chance at life. Money launderers are using cryptocurrencies to hide away their illicit profits. The Internet is host to a myriad of dangerous groups and individuals from dubious merchants of counterfeit goods, to cyber hackers with their own nefarious agendas. And unfortunately, many states are still ill-prepared to tackle the problem. 


The ethical challenge that poses itself upon many policymakers and academics is how much globalisation should we haveGlobalisation is a force that is pulling many different and disparate communities closer together, so what should we prevent from coming into our countries? What should we embrace, regulate or simply block altogether? This is an issue that has cast a large shadow upon many countries, and even exploited by some fear-mongering politicians for political rhetoric. This kind of rhetoric is perhaps best exemplified when Donald Trump alleged that the Mexicans crossing the border were bringing drugs, were rapists and murderers. To be realistic, there are a minority who are involved in crime but to be fair, many others were themselves a victim of crime and abuse when trafficked into the United States. 


The capacities of a state alone are insufficient and are more suited to dealing with other states than dealing with transnational crime. It could combat crime in its own jurisdiction but its capacities are limited to diplomatic means if the criminals are acting from overseas. My native country of Singapore is a good example of this, our small city-state sees very low crime rates domestically but yet the overall crime rates are on the rise largely due to commercial scams and cyber crimes committed from abroad through the Internet. 


Much of the criminal activities mentioned originate in the developing world, places where "normlessness" or "anomie" as Durkheim mentions is still an issue and the urban population is still trying to grapple with the effects of modernisation and assimilate the influx of new migrants from rural communities. Many urban centres in the developing world still lack the means of providing social and economic support to its individuals. Poor access to healthcare and education, harsh working conditions, homelessness, have a created a class of "vulnerables", constantly at risk of being harmed by criminal organisations from human traffickers to drug cartels. In the past, developed states could turn a blind eye to these troubles overseas but now with the world coming closer together and criminal organisations gaining a global reach, one only has to look at the headlines to see that it has become ours as well.  



By: Iswardi Ishak 

      BSc International Relations, University of London

      Undergraduate Category



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