Apart from the loss of tax revenue, organised crime gangs are ploughing the illegal profits into sex trafficking and importing class-A drugs into the UK. The global cost of the illicit trade has now topped £3.5trillion, according to the latest data.
The figure is the equivalent to the fourth-largest world economy, and greater than Britain’s GDP.
According to the FBI, Hamas and Al Qaeda are among the extremist organisations funding terrorism through the sale of counterfeit cigarettes. The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January 2015, which left 12 people dead and 11 wounded, is believed to have been funded by cigarette smuggling and the sale of imitation designer trainers.
As well as fake designer clothes and cigarettes, gangsters and terrorists are selling bogus watches, jewellery, toys, perfumes, cosmetics and other goods.
On top of lost tax revenue, legitimate manufacturers are forced to put up prices, harming the economy and putting jobs at risk.
Data revealing the scale of the black market has been collated by Crime Stoppers International for the launch of today’s World Anti Illicit Trade Awareness Day.
The global charity is calling on governments to ensure anti-illicit trade laws are part of border controls, with harsher penalties for lawbreakers.
It is also urging people struggling with the cost of living crisis to ignore street market bargains on designer goods and smuggled cigarettes.
Crime Stoppers International has launched an advertising campaign called The Illegal Empire revealing the huge scale of harm done through the sale of fake goods.
Shane Britten, chief executive of Crime Stoppers International, said: “Purchasing illicit goods can feel like it is a victimless crime. But with illegal trade, there is no such thing. This cost is too often a human one, through forced labour, and the funding of sex trafficking or terrorism.
“The solution lies with governments, which must incorporate anti-illicit trade measures as part of border control policies and back these up with harsher legislation for those who break the law. The current lack of government action is allowing an ‘illegal empire’ to flourish.”
Earlier this month, City of London Police raided a storage unit in Southall, west London, and discovered an Aladdin’s Cave of fake designer goods worth £200million.