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MOST Newsletter 9
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No. 9 - October 1998

Table of contents


Drugs, globalisation and social transformation

From the beginning of the 20th century, sovereign states have increasingly committed themselves to cross border co-operation to control the international flow of narcotics. The world’s drug problem has not ceased to worsen since the mid-1970s, when an explosion in production, trafficking and abuse of controlled substances triggered alarm in the international community. At the end of the 1990s, the situation continued to worsen mainly with the boom of synthetic drugs and the "black hole" in the international financial system created by money laundering.

Responding to this concern UNDCP, MOST's partner for the project Social and economic transformations connected with the international drug problem, became the king-pin of the organization of the twentieth United Nations General Assembly Special Session (New York, 8-10 June 1998) devoted to the struggle against production, sale, demand, trafficking and illicit distribution of narcotics and psychotropic substances, and connected activities. The Drugs Summit had the following motto: everyone unite to end the drug problem in the 21st century. The Summit proposed not only to have the General Assembly adopt a new international plan of action against drugs presented by UNDCP, but also to bring together for hearing a large number of actors, mainly NGOs, the press, the police, customs and public health officials.

The round table themes chosen by UNDCP are central to the present drug problem and concern most of the world’s States. Production and distribution of drugs have today become a considerable source of revenue for meeting budget deficiencies or enriching, on a personal basis, population groups, companies or even countries. They also involve economically marginalized populations such as agricultural worker-producers or small-time middle-men, criminal organizations or certain segments of the private sector or state institutions. Direct recycling of profits affects the economic heart of society at the level of land patrimony, real estate and finance. Social transformations that operate on the economic development of drugs reveal that illegal activities are increasingly penetrating official sectors of society and are spreading to other sectors of illegal gain. They implicate the law and elementary norms and rules of economic and social organisation, and they seriously modify the evolution of our societies. The in-depth study of these transformations is therefore of real importance for decision-makers, for defining appropriate instruments of public management in the short, medium and long term perspective.

Certainly, on a world-wide scale, cautious optimism is in order with regard to the actual impact of the Summit. Results on certain less official aspects of the problem treated within the MOST project and debated in the informal atmosphere of round tables suggest progress in the fight against illicit drugs.

The conspicuous absence of a round table devoted to research issues is regrettable and shows that an extra effort is needed to communicate its importance for comprehending the varied and complex aspects of the drug phenomenon. Such an understanding should, theoretically, be made before any further policy proposals. Nevertheless, despite this void, social science research issues were presented in reports at various round tables organized by UNDCP and NGOs. There has not been, as expected, a real opening up of social science research guidelines since the Summit and this is a regrettable shortfall. It is reasonable to hope, however, that since the Conference, research on money laundering can now attract more financing and that official actors involved in the struggle against drugs turn to research to assess results of past actions and contribute to shaping new legislation and policy.
C.M. & Laurent Laniel

The round tables organized by the UNDCP during the Drug Summit addressed the following themes:

Contact the MOST web site (http://www.unesco.org/most/welcome.htm) for more information on the Drug Summit and the detailed report on the Drugs Economy and Social Development prepared by Laurent Laniel (OGD, Paris), member of the MOST-Drug project network.

Production of Opium paste (Colombia)


Social Science in the Service of Development

With an annual turnover of $US400 billion (according to the latest UNDCP estimate) the illegal drugs business, expanded greatly over the last decade, now produces more revenue than many large industrial sectors. According to the IMF, drug profits constitute one of the principle sources of the $US500 billion of illegal money laundering each year.

Over the last twenty years, drug production, particularly drug distribution, expanded geographically. Moving away from the traditional heroine producing areas of the Gold Crescent and Triangle, and the cocaine production of the Andes, a growing number of countries now experiment with new crops and products, such as synthetic drugs, and supply international distribution networks. Few countries, North or South, remain unaffected.

Attention has been focused for some time already on the development of illegal crops in some agricultural regions where poor rates of exchange resulting in revenue loss on traditional products encouraged farmers to engage in illegal crop production to compensate for their losses. More recently, studies have concentrated on the repercussions of the distribution and use of drugs in large cities, first in the North, then in the South. Progressively recognised is the role of drug trafficking in the development of large criminal organisations, and in criminal activity in general, including evidence of the drug trade in financing armed conflicts. Today, as research emphasis is placed on drug money laundering, evidence of the interpenetration of the illegal and official economies is surfacing, as is the involvement, direct or indirect, of large sectors of the population, even within state institutions.

Even if these realities are now accepted by governments and public opinion alike, the lack of scientific work on this theme leaves the dissemination of information to the media, or to specialised national and international organizations. There are, however, specific problems associated with gathering accurate information in this area. Without the kinds of officially sanctioned figures available for the legal economy, data gathering in the illegal sector demands extensive field-work capacity, and the ability to quantitatively measure the observable reality, and use these observations as a basis for macro-economic extrapolation. In addition, more specific qualitative socio-economic research is needed than currently available, as survey methods traditionally used to investigate socially legitimate phenomena are inappropriate for examining illegal activities. For this reason, one of the central objectives of the project  Economic and Social Transformations Connected with Drug Trafficking is to collaborate with specialised research institutions to develop new methods of enquiry which will enable a more accurate and realistic macro-economic evaluation than is currently possible using existing statistics.

Such methodological development implies many large-scale surveys carried out in varying geographical areas. Although an advanced level of research has already been attained in the USA and in some European countries or countries with a special interest in the problem - for example in the region of the Andes, Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle - little progress has been made in most major countries in Africa, Asia and South America, or in the former Soviet Union. Yet in certain regions, sectors of society, or institutions in these countries, drug trafficking constitutes an important factor in current social, economic and even political transformations, the effects of which may be felt at all levels - local, regional, national and international.

Following its acceptance by the MOST Scientific Steering Committee, this project was launched at UNESCO Headquarters on 4 and 5 April 1997, which inaugurated collaboration between the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) and UNESCO with a view to reinforcing research co-ordination in the field of drug trafficking and control. An essential part of the co-operation between the two organizations consists in the exchange of information. Access to UNDCP literature facilitates the smooth progress of the research work, and research results from the MOST networks provide an important contribution to UNDCP data gathering in this field. In addition this co-operation creates the possibility of co-financing activities of mutual interest to the organizations and their Member States: UNDCP is currently funding MOST research activities related to the international drug problem in China, India, Mexico, Brazil and Nigeria. C.M.

World Production of Cannabis and its Derivates

World Cultivation of Coca Shrub and Poppy Plant

African Channels for Drug Exportation

MOST project on "Economic and Social Transformations connected with Drug Trafficking": Professor Jack A. Blum lectured on "Controlling Money Laundering: a Tool against Corruption and Drug Trafficking" at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris on 2 February 1998. Mr. Blum is a specialist in this field and has worked on numerous cases brought before the United States Senate. To obtain a copy of this paper, please contact the MOST Secretariat.

Institutions involved in the project: 
  • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Groupement de Recherche " Psychotropes, Politique et Société " (G 1106), France
  • Institut de Recherche Scientifique et Technique pour le Développement en Coopération (ORSTOM), France
  • Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Centre de Sociologie de la Défense, France
  • Centre de Recherches et de Documentation sur la Chine Contemporaine, France
  • International Drug Watch, France
  • Universidade Estadual de Rio de Janeiro-UERJ, Instituto de Medicina Social, Brazil
  • Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro-UFRJ, Faculdade de Geografía, Brazil
  • Universidade de São Paulo - USP, Núcleo de Estudos sobre a Violência-NEV, Brazil
  • Museu Goeldi and Universidade Federal do Pará-UFP à Belém, Brazil
  • Chinese Institute of Social Science, Hong Kong, China
  • Peoples' University of Beijing, China
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, China
  • National Addiction Research Centre, India
  • Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training, Zaria (Nigeria)
  • Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM), Mexico
  • Centro de Investigación y de Docencia Económicas, México

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