TT Talk - Correlating global freight crime with societal harm

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There are dots to be joined between freight crime and societal challenges, such as those related to narcotics, people trafficking and terrorism. It is time to take concerted action.

Definitions can be important. In this context, 'societal harm' is considered as the challenge to social order and values. Freight related crime, such as cargo theft, may not feature particularly in many jurisdictions in relation to investigative resources or crime prevention initiatives. This fact alone may determine the degree of exploitative energy focused by the criminal fraternity. Assuming connections can properly be made between such crime and domestic and cross-border harm, urgent focus on supply chain security is required.

Annual Global Cargo Theft analysis

TT has over a number of years collaborated with BSI to understand the trends and impact of cargo theft globally. The latest cargo theft report, looking primarily at 2020, has now been released.

"the pandemic has threatened supply chain security, continuity and resilience"

As the 2020 report makes clear, the pandemic has threatened supply chain security, continuity and resilience. This has led to disruptions not only in supply/demand trade flows, but also through difficulties in the logistics infrastructure to process and clear goods effectively. Such issues have been compounded by workforce absences and shortages, needs to adapt procedures to accommodate dislocated practices and necessary distancing, together with utilising temporary additional storage facilities in many instances. 

Quite simply the working world has turned upside down. Remote working, where possible, presents risks ranging from cyber security to simple home distractions. Where in person activity happens at the workplace, there are challenges in maintaining ordinary procedures, including from reduced workforce availability, general security systems and necessary social distancing. 

There has been a significant rise in the drive to digitisation to overcome paper trails and physical transfers - some of these have been implemented at speed, which presents additional risks.

Such risk issues have been canvassed in TT's COVID webpage. The challenges in maintaining thoroughly secure systems and procedures are substantial - but clearly diligence and vigilance are required. As cargo theft continues to threaten the global supply chain, how to avoid being a statistic becomes invaluable.

Furthermore, migrating 'value systems' have resulted in different commodities being of interest. Bizarrely, in some places toilet paper briefly became highly desirable, but unsurprisingly PPE (personal protective equipment) has been regularly targeted for theft. Nevertheless, consumer products, fuel and foodstuffs have continued to top the list, almost certainly in part because of the ease of disposal to fresh 'markets'.

Inevitably, the report reveals variations around the globe that need detailed consideration, reflecting differing cultural approaches, socio-economic drivers and geo-political risks. In some instances these provide an echo to the 'correlation' discussion - such as the unintended impact of working hours regulations, the responses to economic migration and even the destruction of established practices brought on by Brexit.

The endemic attraction of corruption is also made plain, whether resulting from 'insider' actions or relating to lapses in border and customs controls. The transport and logistics industry is particularly adept at facilitating and managing cross-border interactions - these are the essence of trade - but it is equally vulnerable where controls do not operate as expected. Worse, it can be exploited and infiltrated by those who thrive off narcotics or people trafficking.

Responding to the changing threat universe - 2020 & beyond

While continuing and renewed prevention efforts need to be focused, the solutions are not simply more devices - cameras, improved tracking and geo-fencing etc - and this truth applies to the broader linkages between freight crime and the more significant issues that most directly concern governmental authorities.

The last year has demonstrated how resilient and adaptable the business of crime is. Commodities of interest and value have changed - PPE is clearly more important and quality issues or counterfeits pose heightened risks. Whether or not related to the pandemic, sophisticated smuggling supply chains have emerged - and the general risks of stowaways and people migration continue. 

There are continuing issues around the globe relating to container shortages and port congestion. The world is substantially geared towards new vaccine supply chains that present inherent transport risks relating to temperature control, without concern over intrinsic value of each consignment or the potential for counterfeiting.

The pandemic has released much energy and investment towards digitisation, which in all probability had already passed a tipping point but has inevitably been brought from the horizon into sharp focus. While such concentration is welcome in an industry bedevilled with traditions and paper, urgency and expediency may also expose to the darker side of cybercrime. 

Considering hierarchies

Inspired by considering Maslow's "hierarchy of needs"  TT sees a "hierarchy of crime", where the pinnacle would represent the most heinous crime barons operating internationally, controlling 'supply chains' involving narcotics or people trafficking and funding terrorism.

"TT sees a "hierarchy of crime""

The nature of all crime activity starts at a lower, frequent level. Moving from the base to the point of the triangle, there is increasing deliberateness, sophistication and intrigue - in proportion to the return on investment and resulting in deepening challenge to societal order and value. And in some instances it is concerning to see the audacity in actors who not only plan in intricate detail to takeover entire - previously legitimate - supply chains but brazenly 'buy' loyalty from regular workers and officials alike.

The prevalence and magnitude of the issues identified here, and the emerging clarity of criminal 'food chain' requires deliberate, coordinated and collaborative response between industry and governments, nationally and internationally in order to:

  • Overcome indifference;
  • Mitigate unintended consequences;
  • Energise enforcement & reporting; and
  • Promote commonality of objectives.


We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director, TT Club


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Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director