I have now been the Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Illicit Trade and Organized Crime for over a year. 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 to get the business community to take it seriously.

How wrong I was; a large number of the Forum’s Members have expressed serious concern about issues such as counterfeiting and forgeries, trafficking in people/arms/drugs, piracy, illegal mining and fishing, and the devastating impact they have on the countries and communities in which they operate.

The Forum has recognized this and set up a new Global Agenda Meta-Council on illicit markets.

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

  1. Need to ensure multi-sector collaboration across consumers, industries, governments and borders
  2. Better data and analytics to understand the phenomenon and enable informed decision-making, and hopefully, the development of an incident-reporting mechanism

While these are complex and sensitive issues, we have enough momentum to launch a new public-private-civil society partnership at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015 that will combat illicit trade and the illegal economy. The Forum 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 case studies on the impact of the illicit economy on competitiveness, government revenue and regulation, and personal or individual safety.

A recently completed study of six countries determined that 30% of the alcohol and beer being sold was counterfeit, posing a serious health risk. In another study, illegal mining was shown to be a larger revenue source than illicit drugs.

The Forum could use a compendium of these case studies 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.

Author: Adam Blackwell is Secretary of Multidimensional Security, Organization of American States, Washington DC