While society as a whole might be becoming more transparent, there is still a large amount of illegal activity. Some of them pay exceptionally well. The following are the most profitable illegal businesses in the world. Note that the estimates often vary depending on the source – there are no official statistics on illegal activities, as they are not reported due to their very nature.
Illegal Business #1 – Counterfeit Goods
More profit can be made from the counterfeiting industry than any other illegal business activity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to stop the counterfeiting of various kinds of goods.
Counterfeiting includes ripoffs of luxury jewelry, designer clothes, perfumes, and most commercial products. The vast majority of counterfeited goods are produced in China, India, and Taiwan.
Typically, the money made from counterfeited goods is used to fund other illegal activities, such as drugs and prostitution. In 2017, the counterfeited watches, clothes, handbags, and textiles amounted to $450 billion alone. Counterfeits are everywhere, even in the medical industry.
Illegal Business #2 – Drugs
Drugs are number two on the list of profitable business models. The industry is worth an incredible $300 billion, and this figure only includes estimates of internationally smuggled drugs, not domestic transactions.
Cocaine and heroin are two of the biggest (and most profitable) illegitimate businesses. Cocaine is manufactured in regions such as Colombia and Peru, while heroin in the U.S. typically comes from Colombia or Mexico.
Illegal Business #3 – Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is still a very common activity on the globe, and is the worst kind of illegal activity. People are forced into various forms of slavery, most often as sex workers. To ensure compliance, they are often given drugs so that they become dependent and reliant. This is on top of the ‘enforcers’ who make sure that they toe the line.
The human trafficking industry is worth about $32 billion dollars every year, though these figures are hard to ascertain. Victims often come from India, China, and Colombia.
Other profitable illegal businesses include illegal logging (previously estimated at $10-15 billion annually), wildlife trafficking (previously estimated at $7-23 billion annually), and organ harvesting (previously estimated at $600 million – $1.2 billion annually). In some of these instances, business is allowed to flourish due to organizations turning a blind eye.