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How to tackle illicit trade

Since September 2017, I’ve been working with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on illicit trade to understand how best to tackle it. We’ve been gathering evidence about its impact from businesses, consumers and law enforcement, and the results have been astonishing.

The financial cost of illicit trade is high, with the toy industry taking a £400 million hit, for example. And society is suffering too, with the independent retail sector recruiting 12,000 fewer people. And the problem is growing.

Based on the evidence we received, part of the challenge is that there’s no unified, national approach to combatting illicit trade, which makes it difficult for local governments and law enforcement to coordinate their individual efforts and stem its flow. Those who spoke and wrote to us consistently mentioned it appeared criminals could “get away with it” as high-profile prosecutions are rare.

On top of this, we were told much of the public doesn’t recognise the harm illicit trade causes, like funding organised crime and bypassing safety rules. Instead, it’s often viewed as a ‘Robin Hood’ crime, taking money from profiteering organisations and passing the savings onto ordinary people.

Finally, businesses made the point that tax increases could drive illicit trade. One example given is the Soft Drinks Industry Levy recently introduced by the UK Government. It taxes drinks that are high in sugar content, but that increase in price could make the illicit trade in soft drinks more attractive.

To tackle these issues, the report from the APPG, created with PA Consulting as specialist advisor, gives four recommendations:

Establish an anti-illicit trade group

To ensure effective co-ordination, the APPG recommends creating a group that shares information and intelligence, strengthens relationships between organisations, and joins up initiatives to better use resources.

Develop a national strategy to tackle illicit trade

By creating a national strategy with input from businesses, law enforcement and government, the APPG suggests it will be possible to coordinate responsibilities. It proposes focusing the strategy on preventing illicit trade, educating the public about its impact and better enforcing existing rules.

Create a strategic lead with authority

The strategic lead would own the national strategy and take a leadership role to ensure progress against objectives. It would co-ordinate government departments, local government bodies, law enforcement agencies, business and consumer groups, trade associations, charities and private sector organisations to maximise efforts.

Create a knowledge-base for the group

The final recommendation from the APPG is to develop a deeper understanding of the drivers of illicit trade from a consumer perspective and look at its connection with organised crime and the harm that causes.

For more details on the findings of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Illicit Trade, read the full report here.

Contact the author

Contact the policing and justice team