Reflecting on my year at the WEF

I have now been the Chair of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council on Illicit Trade and Organized Crime for over a year. I have been supported in this journey by the Vice-Chairs, Christina Bain (Babson College), and David Luna (State), the other members of the council, and of course, Isabel De Sola, the forum’s Collaborator-in-Chief.

Initially I was reluctant to take this on – not because of the work commitment or importance of the issues but rather, I had an underlying feeling that it would be difficult in the rarefied world of the WEF, to get the business community to take this seriously.

How wrong I was, a large number of the WEF member companies have expressed serious concern about these issues – some examples; counterfeits and fakes, trafficking in people/arms/drugs, piracy, illegal mining and fishing and the devastating impact this has on the countries and communities where they operate. The WEF has recognized this and has set up a new Global Agenda Meta Council (1 of only 6) on illicit markets.

Most encouragingly, we recently completed a meeting of 20 or so business leaders from many regions and industries across the globe. We found that there is a real interest in moving forward in a focused and coherent way — to move beyond risk management to a more proactive approach. We identified two large gaps in the current strategy:

  1. The need for a strategy that ensures multi-sectoral collaboration, across consumers, industry, governments and borders.
  2. Better data and analytics to understand the phenomenon and enable informed decision-making, and hopefully the development of an incidence reporting mechanism.

While these are complex and sensitive issues, we have enough momentum to launch at Davos 2015– a public, private, citizen partnership to combat illicit trade and illegal economy, and harms to the global business and investment climate. The WEF is the ideal convener for these difficult conversations to take place in a safe and responsible space. I would like to see our group develop indicative case studies on the impact of the Illicit Economy on competitiveness, government revenue and regulation, and personal or individual safety. In one recently completed study of 6 countries it was determined that 30% of the alcohol and beer sales were counterfeit, posing a serious health risk. In another, illegal mining was shown to now be a larger revenue source than illicit drugs.

The WEF could use a compendium of these case studies in a promotional document to raise awareness in the first instance, and set a positive development agenda to move as much of the illicit and informal economy to the formal economy as an engine of growth.

Adam Blackwell

For more information on why illicit trade and organized crime matters to us all, please visit:

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