Regulators and law enforcement must treat the illegal wildlife trade as a financial crime, argues Standard Chartered Bank in a recent bulletin.
“Approaches to tackling this trade have been limited by too-narrow a conception of it as a conservation issue,” it states. “Efforts to date have concentrated on the supply-side response. This is changing.”
This shift in thinking highlights the key role whistleblowers can play in the enforcement of wildlife trafficking. Whistleblowers, who have already been integral to cracking down on financial crime, can also have a powerful impact in the wildlife crime arena. Many of the greatest corporate scandals were uncovered because of whistleblowers, including financial fraud at Enron, Worldcom, and Theranos. Utilizing whistleblowers in the wildlife sphere is a logical next step.
Applicable U.S. whistleblower laws can hold corporations accountable for facilitating wildlife crime through bribery or customs fraud. Once we start penalizing shipping companies, airlines, and banks for engaging in criminal activity, knowingly or otherwise, we can begin to break down the financial flows of wildlife crime. As Standard Chartered writes: “the solution lies in disrupting the business model.”
A new bill currently circulating in Congress recognizes wildlife crime as a form of organized crime. It proposes make wildlife trafficking a predicate offense under powerful federal organized crime statutes. The means that wildlife crime can be treated as a white-collar offense like money laundering or wire fraud. This methodology could become the basis for taking down entire wildlife trafficking operations.
It is time to recognize wildlife crime, not just as a conservation crisis, but also as a criminal business operation. A broadened approach to tackling wildlife crime must include the incentivizing whistleblowers to step forward with information.