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CJCCJ/Volume 64.3 (2022)

Transnational Criminology: Trafficking and Global Criminal Markets

By Simon Mackenzie
UK: Bristol University Press. 2020. 163 p.

The book aroused my interest. While searching for comprehensive literature on transnational crimes, not only to support my university lectures but also to use it in the process of designing trafficking-related projects for international non-governmental organizations, I was asked to conduct a review of Mackenzie’s book. I wrote this review from a criminologist’s perspective who lives and researches in the middle of the Balkan trafficking route, which passes through relatively small countries in which ‘controversial businesses’ flourish.

This attractive book offers much trafficking-related information, creating a complete story through its eight chapters. The first “Introduction: Trafficking as Transnational Crime” and the last “Conclusions: A social Theory of Transnational Criminal Markets” summarize the author’s overall goal – to offer a social theory of transnational criminal markets. Despite their different purposes, the author keeps similar nature of writing in chapters from two to seven that aims to provide a “summary and primer on the main features of each trafficking market covered” (p.18): Drug trafficking (Chapter 2), Human trafficking (Chapter 3), Wildlife trafficking (Chapter 4), Diamond trafficking (Chapter 5), Arms trafficking (Chapter 6), and Antiquities trafficking (Chapter 7).

Before scholars criticize the book and before students or unexperienced professionals take this book as ultimate knowledge, it is essential to bear in mind that Mackenzie writes this book and probably selects the forms mentioned above of transnational crime on what he ‘has learned’ (p.19) from the literature that most influenced his knowledge and opinions. The author, very bravely, applies a relatively innovative and demanding approach, in which as a single author writing on the multiple-case format of transnational crime. In this way, he focuses on better understanding the nature of the more general problem, rather than a mainly used approach that ‘concentrates on the mounting problems in controlling certain types of cross-border misconduct’ (Passas, 2002, p.32).

Mackenzie pays special attention to the introductory remarks. He is starting by providing a clear definition of transnational crime, disclosing any possibility of its misinterpreting as international crime or global crime, but missing to note that this term in the literature (mostly in European literature) is commonly referred to as ‘cross-border crime’.

According to the author, significant differences in wealth among countries and the considerable disproportion of wealth within countries generate challenges and create demand for illicit goods and services. One of the key reasons he sees globalization in general and business globalization in particular. Hence, while presenting some evidence, he claims that ‘illegal business dances to very much the same tune as a legal business, using similar methods, having similar aims, and achieving similar ends’ (p.2). Thus, together with legal, criminal enterprises have also become global. While the ‘majority of all serious crimes’ (p.1) in advanced capitalistic society become market-oriented, the author underlines that internationalization of crime control is much slower than international commerce in the context of criminal activities. Even worst, different jurisdictions are sometimes part of a ‘protecting umbrella’ for actors in transnational criminal activities.

‘Trafficking blurs the distinction between legal and illegal businesses’ (p.121). Moreover, metaphorical business language precludes consideration of differences between legal/licit and illegal/illicit. For Mackenzie, trafficking is an illegal enterprise that is most appropriately defined as ‘proscribed business rather than a practice defined by an inherent criminality’ (p.9), understood conventionally. As the actors in this business do not see themselves as criminals, the author raises a rhetorical question on how they can stay indifferent to the fact that their actions cause the suffering of others. The author’s answer is based on the ‘compartmentalization of crime’ and ‘compartmentalized mindset’ of the actor which is further explained from psychological and sociological aspects. Practically, authorization, routinization, and dehumanization play a vital role in the process, the author claims. ‘Nothing personal, it is just business’, ‘Business is business – No hard feelings’ are typical examples of ‘rationalization’, as a protective mechanism used by transnational crime actors to ‘avoid’ individual responsibility. They are rationalizing that actions delivered are because of the job requirement and outcomes of their actions are not for their personal needs.

Although the main features of transnational crimes discussed in the book are significantly different, Mackenzie effectively links them. The structure of the six chapters related to six forms of trafficking is organized in four uniformed sections: (1) ‘The nature and extent of the harm’, that always offer a huge amount of evidence from academic and non-academic research; (2) ‘The structure of (the particular form of trafficking): source, transit, demand’; (3) ‘Regulation and control of (the particular form of trafficking)’; and finally (4) ‘(the particular form of trafficking) as business enterprise’. The fourth section aims to link with an offered theoretical perspective, focusing on similarities with legal (international) business, pointing out compartmentalization or/and neutralization as a functional part of transnational criminal activities.

Mackenzie’s work is a significant contribution to developing ‘Transnational criminology’. However, besides six forms of trafficking coved in the book, transnational crime implies many other forms (e.g., smuggling of illegal aliens, frauds, corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, capital flight, smuggling of legal goods [minerals, agricultural produce, cigarettes, wood, etc.] as well as, environmental crimes, computer crimes, etc. [see, for example, Van Duyne et al., 2020]). In addition, although we must agree with Mackenzie that most transnational crimes are enterprise crimes (crimes for profit), usually based on the opportunity to maximize profit, a deeper discussion on motives would have been beneficial. As ‘most observers neglect the question of motives’ (Passas, 2002, p.32), practical implications of theories and findings within transnational criminology remain incomplete. Namely, to provide a comprehensive explanation of the etiology of transnational crime, ideological, religious, and political goals, but also cultural differences must be considered.

The author’s primary focus is on the state agencies and international bodies (e.g., Europol, Interpol, & WCO) by writing on controlling transnational crimes. Although he underlines the importance of different preventive measures as an essential part of controlling transnational crimes, there is no sufficient text in the book that addresses the influence of other critical sectors. Bearing in mind their programming focused on preventing different forms of trafficking and their robust budgets, the influence of relevant international non-governmental organizations (e.g., Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, World Vision International) cannot be ignored. From the other side, it is essential to emphasize the efforts of legal businesses, followed by relatively new regulations (mainly in the continental part of Western Europe) to make a clear distinction from illegal markets. Namely, many companies invested a lot to assure compliance, ethics, and integrity standards in the last ten years, including ISO standardization and self-regulatory mechanisms (see Makowicz, 2018).

Overall, the book is readily accessible, and I found it quite informative. On the other hand, by reading the sections where my expertise is strong(er), I felt the need for detailed discussions with the author, including some minimal disagreements caused by (necessary) generalizations. For example, although the phenomenology of cross-border crimes within Western Balkans meets the criteria of a given definition of transnational crime, the offered theory cannot be fully (or significantly) applied. While Mackenzie puts the focus on large and complex criminal organizations, fragmented and short-existing groups of 5-10 people in the Western Balkans do the ‘majority of the business’ (see, for example, UNODC, 2020).

Mackenzie acknowledged that ‘many great works on transnational crime’ influenced his thinking (p. 18). Although the best publishers are placed there, I could not ignore that most of the used literature comes from the US and then from the UK. This has some potential to explain the author’s approach that is mainly oriented toward ‘demand’ and ‘consumer societies’ (developed western countries), while the actors at the beginning of a criminal chain of supply remain almost ‘neglected’.

The book “Transnational Criminology: Trafficking and Global Criminal Markets” is very attractive, with dynamic interpretations of the vast amount of evidence and systematically structured academic thoughts. It has the potential to serve both experienced scholars and students in reaching their goals.



Makowicz, B. (2018). Global Ethics, Compliance & Integrity: Yearbook 2018. Recht Und Wirtschaft GmbH.

Passas, N. (2002). Cross-border crime and the interface between legal and illegal actors.  In Van Duyne PC, Von Lampe K, Passas N (Eds.). Upperworld and Underworld in Cross-border Crime. Published by Wolf Legal Publishers (WLP), 11-43.

UNODC (2020). Measuring organized crime in the Western Balkans. Available at

Van Duyne P.C., Strémyjackie, T., Harvey J.H., Antonopoulos G.A., Von Lampe, K. (2020). The Janus-faces of cross-border crime in Europe. Eleven International Publishing.

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