Dark Commerce: Technology’s Contribution to the Illegal Economy

Members event Recording
11 December 2018 — 6:00PM TO 7:00PM
Chatham House | 10 St James's Square | London | SW1Y 4LE

Spurred by technological ingenuity, enhanced convenience and market forces, consumers are increasingly likely to buy goods from online retailers rather than brick-and-mortar retail outlets. However, as the trade in legal goods and legitimate transactions online has flourished, it has heralded a similar exponential growth in the trade of illicit goods and illegal transactions online.

This ‘dark commerce’ operates in a broad range of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, narcotics, arms, wildlife, timber, fish, antiquities, counterfeits and even human beings. Anonymized buyers and sellers facilitate these illegitimate exchanges, while purchasing processes and regulations enacted in the pre-digital age, complicate law enforcement agencies’ attempts to dismantle criminal apparatuses.

Louise Shelley, author of Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future, discusses how new technology, communications and globalization fuel the growth of dangerous forms of illegal trade.

She examines how dark commerce works to exacerbate many of the world’s destabilizing phenomena: the perpetuation of conflicts, the proliferation of arms and environmental degradation and extinction. What are the connections between the trade in tangible illicit goods and intangible goods such as personal information, computer data and intellectual property? And how might law enforcement agencies respond to these increasing challenges?


Dr Louise Shelley, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University; Director, Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, George Mason University; Author, Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future

Chair: Matthew Oxenford, Research Associate, Global Economy and Finance Department, Chatham House

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