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Over the past decade or more, some of the most positive and effective initiatives aimed at preventing cargo losses have been born in the Netherlands.
The nation’s reputation as the trade ‘gateway to Europe’ makes it home to some of the continent’s biggest distribution hubs and fulfilment centres. Consequently, it is also prominent focus of cargo thieves, from individual ‘opportunist’ offenders to cross-border Organised Crime Groups.
In March, the latest initiative aimed at tackling this threat was published; the much-publicised ‘Breakthrough Requested’ research commissioned by Transport en Logistiek Nederland (TLN) and financed by the Ministry of Justice and Security. It is a compelling, honest and forthright assessment of the researchers’ findings and its recommendations, if adopted, could be far-reaching. The Dutch Ministry of Justice & Security has already given a positive response to the research and signalled its intention to work with other government ministries in recognition of the need for a multi-faceted response. The private sector faces some big questions too.
It would be extremely wrong, however, to view this research as only highlighting supply chain security challenges in the Netherlands. This report could so easily apply to every country with thriving supply chains and high rates of cargo crime. It would be a missed opportunity not to consider how this research can be applied across a far greater territory. Europe, at least.
Vigilant invited the authors of the report to explain their methodology and summarise their findings, compiled over a 12-month period ending January 2021…
Research into road freight transport: crime, vulnerabilities and interventions
This research provides much in-depth information about the vulnerabilities to criminal activities in road freight transport and the public-private measures that are being, or should be, taken to enhance the resilience of the sector. It focusses on three elements: phenomena, vulnerabilities, and reaction patterns, including public-private collaboration.
A public interest lies at the basis of this study: it addresses security issues, as well as the breeding ground for transport crime. But the transport sector also clearly has an economic interest in this research: continuity of business processes and maintaining a positive image. After all, a good business climate is also safe and secure; free from crime.
Various methods were used in this study. The exploratory research consists of literature review and analyses of policy documents. In addition, open sources have been studied - websites, publications, news items, messages on drivers’ fora - and non-open sources, such as the dark-web and chat-app Telegram. The research consists of interviews and observations with government officials, law enforcement, private sector representatives, drivers, couriers, interest associations, and other experts in the sector, and in the field of transport crime. Interviews were also conducted with experienced criminals.
The main conclusion: This research into vulnerabilities to criminal activities, and public-private measures in road freight transport, points to working conditions and competitive pressure as being the most prominent explanations for transport crime. This is against a backdrop of a low chance of being caught – which enables criminals to use legal freight transports more easily - and well-organised, wealthy criminal networks that gratefully make use of the exceptional logistical infrastructure of the Netherlands as ‘Gateway to Europe’.
It is not a new phenomenon that criminals actively recruit persons or companies in vulnerable economic positions. It is visible in companies: corruption is a real problem that the transport sector is trying to tackle. Fierce competition and increased labour market flexibility lead to the adoption of all kinds of survival strategies. These strategies sometimes evoke criminal activities. In addition, digitalisation and tech-solutions, and low barriers for newcomers to enter the market, give rise to a downward pressure on transportation prices.
At the same time, for example, subcontractors and couriers do not seem to benefit from the revenue growth in parcel delivery companies, leading to a persistent imbalance in growth. All these factors increase economic vulnerability. It is a downwards spiral, and the sector seems to be incapable or unwilling to put an end to it by itself. Business culture, low entry barriers and digitalisation should not be ignored, but - based on this research - are less evident explanations for criminal activities. The most prominent cause is related to financial-economic vulnerability, notably working conditions and competitive pressure.
This conclusion does not imply that the sector is full of ill-intentioned logistical service providers and corruptible drivers. On the contrary, despite economic vulnerability, most companies, drivers and couriers have no intentions of getting involved with criminals. It is important to acknowledge that transport and logistics are essential components in criminal processes, and specifically in smuggling. Like any goods in legal business operations, contraband goods need to be shipped from A to B to match supply and demand.
Breakthrough requested and inter-departmental awareness
A breakthrough is needed to end the downwards spiral and to address what currently seems to be stuck: business interests, tight profit margins, and sometimes even hopelessness.
In the recommendations, a distinction is made between advice aimed at:
The advice aimed at hindering crime attempts to go beyond judicial strategies. Although those are necessary as well, a good balance needs to be found between law enforcement, on the one hand, and taking away the breeding ground for non-compliant behaviour on the other hand. Currently, the response patterns still show system failure. Policies, interventions and public-private collaboration are mainly focussed on short-term solutions: creating awareness and imposing barriers. Less attention seems to be given to tackling the underlying pattern: the social-economic vulnerability.
A breakthrough starts with a sense of responsibility, and awareness that something has to change. It helps if recommendations and options to act are ‘assigned’ to certain stakeholders. Otherwise, many will acknowledge the importance, but no one feels responsible to act. Therefore, it helps to clearly stress that the Ministry of Justice and Security and the associated security domain, cannot conquer transport crime and address the vulnerabilities in road freight transport solely by itself (in addition to the measures that are being, or could be taken, by the private sector). Inter-departmental awareness at a government level is required in combination with much-needed public-private collaboration.
Directions and recommendation aimed at a breakthrough…
The report includes a wide variety of recommendations. These include:
 In the Netherlands, road haulage operators are currently exempted from requiring a license if they stay below 500 kilos payload capacity.
Vigilant spoke to the report’s authors, transport and security specialist, Marcel van de Ven, and criminologist, Eric Bervoets, to ask them what they hope to see as a result of their research and recommendations …
Breakthrough requested to tackle the ‘breeding ground’ of cargo crime
Marcel: “We were asked to undertake a ‘street wise’ research project. Through the relationships we made, we were able to gain much more information about what is actually going on at the ground level. That was very important because we wanted to look at the symptoms and the breeding ground which helped to explain why certain types of crime existed, and to determine what elements could be changed.
“That is why this research is titled ‘Breakthrough Requested’ because what we saw is that the vulnerabilities and social circumstances of people, their wages etc., can makes them vulnerable to criminals. So, more law enforcement alone is not the answer. Our advice is that there needs to be more public, private and inter-departmental (Dutch Government) awareness and cooperation.”
Eric: “The problems we identified have to transcend the security domain. If you continue doing the same as you did before, you are not going to realise a breakthrough at all. This is not only a Dutch problem but a European problem that needs to be solved internationally.
“In the report, we say that a multiple perspective is needed to fight crime in the transport industry. Law enforcement is OK and should be sophisticated and continue, but next to this you need to influence the societal background. There are too many drivers, employers and companies that are given offers they cannot refuse. Some criminals are very wealthy and well organised and know the ways of using social engineering to foster corruption. They use this to get information to get to places where they can access cargo. Someone has to close the tap.
“We used police reports and statistics but as a criminologist I should always be aware of the so-called ‘Dark Number’. The real number of these types of crimes, of social engineering, can only be estimated, but it’s not rocket science. We used TAPA EMEA’s incident registrations as well and, often, they were more helpful to use than our own police registrations.”
Marcel: The system and the approach of government must be reviewed. With too many rules, you create all sorts of gaps that criminals can jump into and do their business. They are very adaptive, we are very rigid. We spoke to many companies who told us they solved incidents for themselves instead of working with the public sector authorities. They had their own private detectives to solve problems.
“In Holland, the chance of criminals getting caught for a transport security crime is let’s say 70% but the chance you will be convicted for a jail term is maybe about 5%. So, criminals are naturally choosing to operate in a country where they see this type of ratio. Clearly, when law enforcement is understaffed, we know their focus is on Homicide, Drugs and Vice. So, criminals are very much aware that if they steal laptops, for example, it will bring them even more money to finance their drug trade, and the risk of getting caught is at a minimum. And, even if they are caught, they will be out of custody in a matter of weeks. I would say we need a taskforce to look at this, similar to the types of units we see in the US which focus specifically on cargo crime only.”
Marcel: “The main challenge might be in development of public-private partnerships. It is a complex challenge to work together but I would suggest starting with higher penalties and increased law enforcement to get support from the private companies to take part in partnerships. Private organisations are not law enforcers, they aren't trying to catch crooks like the police. Government organisations need to realise that loss of profit and the reputational damage being done to organisations which are victims of cargo crime are the main elements for private companies. They do not still speak the same language on this.
“Inter-departmental awareness is needed. The traditional concept in fighting crime of more penalties and more enforcement is OK for the short-term but, for the longer term, there needs to be more resilient solutions fighting this type of crime. It should be that the Ministry of Social Affairs, of Economic Affairs, should be engaged and taking part in the solution to influence the types of breeding grounds we are talking about.”
Eric: “TAPA EMEA can help in facilitating awareness by, for example, continuing to record incident registrations because TAPA’s data is often a lot better than that of law enforcement agencies. The Association can help to initiate international cooperation and awareness. Transport crime has an intrinsic element and it cannot only be fought in Holland. The ‘breakthrough’ needed should be international but we had to start somewhere. Helping people cooperate, registration of criminal activity and the TAPA Standards certificates are all key in trying to change this.”
“It is very clear that some companies organise their own law enforcement and want to keep things in-house. As a criminologist, I am fascinated by so-called closed communities that do not easily talk to the outside world because they are sometimes lacking trust. My hope is that our research firstly creates awareness and leads to a new level of liaison between industry, law enforcement and government. The research has got a reaction. We proved a lot of things and the negotiations about salaries, for example, have started. We have tried to start a movement and the government are now more aware of the bigger picture. I am satisfied with our work.”
TAPA EMEA: TO MAKE SUPPLY CHAINS MORE SECURE, WE NEED TO LOOK AT MORE THAN JUST CRIME
Marcel Saarloos, Chair of TAPA EMEA, was one of the supply chain security specialists interviewed for the ‘Breakthrough Requested’ report….
“TAPA EMEA commends Transport en Logistiek Nederland (TLN) and the Ministry of Justice and Security for leading this initiative and supporting the production of this report, which provides valuable intelligence and insight which can lead to increased supply chain resilience.
“While we know from TAPA’s Incident Information Service (IIS) data that cargo crime is a major concern for businesses in the Netherlands, the same is true across the EMEA region. In 2020, we recorded cargo losses in 56 countries in EMEA. So, we hope the findings of this report will resonate with government departments, law enforcement agencies and companies across our region.
“Instinctively, when a cargo crime occurs, we look at the immediate incident information and our focus is on recovery. This report reminds us that, in order to find a long-term and sustainable crime prevention solution, we need to also look deeper at the causes of criminality. Yes, there are large numbers of Organised Crime Groups operating in Europe, for example, which are targeting supply chains – but there are clearly steps that can be taken to make it more difficult for them to ‘recruit’ or influence others to facilitate these crimes.
“This, of course, is only one aspect of the types of cargo thefts we record in EMEA on an almost daily basis. TAPA EMEA works closely national Law Enforcement Agencies and they clearly take the issue of cargo crime seriously but we cannot stand back and expect police forces to solve problems without any support. At TAPA EMEA, we are pleased to see the report highlighting the need for cargo crime data to be recorded and shared. We also welcome the author’s appreciation of the value of TAPA’s Security Standards in helping to tackle the issue of cargo losses from facilities and vehicles. Looking at the wider causes of thefts from supply chains, it also highlights the importance of secure parking for trucks and the need to rapidly expand the number of secure parking places. These are all key areas of focus for TAPA EMEA.
“The biggest value of this report is that it has key influencers talking about transport security and cargo crime at both the public and private levels. We must now look for ways to leverage this momentum. It will take time, but the debate has started.”