Mapping illicit trade around the Belt and Road Initiative

An interactive map microsite

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime
Mapping illicit trade around the Belt and Road Initiative


Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

Project type:



Data visualisation
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We teamed up with Global Initiative to help map where and how transnational criminals have exploited vulnerable areas along the Belt and Road Initiative for illicit trade.

Learn about the Belt and Road Initiative’s vulnerability to criminal exploitation, from wildlife trafficking to narcotics, in this interactive map portal.

The map portal interface, including filter areas and information panels.

About the project

Global Initiative—a non-profit exploring organized crime in the Asia-Pacific region—needed a digital map-based story explaining illicit activity around the BRI. 

The challenge

Mapping invisible crime

Most people in Asia are no stranger to the Belt and Road Initiative, widely seen as the “project of the century”. But few know just how vulnerable it is to criminal exploitation. 

From human trafficking to pangolin scales, criminal activity has surfaced around the BRI’s corridors. Global Initiative needed a digital map to show data that is usually hidden: where and how criminal entrepreneurs are using the BRI’s connectivity for nefarious purposes.

Mapping illicit trade around the Belt and Road Initiative

Understanding scale beyond numbers

Our map needed to communicate hotspots of illegal activity within the BRI’s areas of activity. There were many types of datasets to display that concern the BRI’s network, but also where the areas of vulnerability are. We needed to help readers and researchers focus on the aspects they care most about, while communicating all the data clearly and intuitively.

Changing the perspective of the map, with the map showing BRI corridors and routes.
The homepage, showing brief description of the project and its purpose.
An illustrated infographic of a possible trafficking scenario.

Our creative solution

We created an interactive map showing crime hotspots in the BRI’s network. Turning on toggle filters reveals the BRI’s corridors, and the trafficking routes—from gemstones and e-waste to drugs and people—each styled with a distinct colour.

Readers click on hotspots to zoom in on what illicit activities happen where, and how the BRI’s developments may enable them.

A separate story section explains the rise of the BRI in greater detail and shows how it has linked countries across Asia and beyond, from Uzbekistan to Kenya. An illustrated infographic shows readers how goods are trafficked and who’s involved.

Our partners

Global Initiative is an independent civil society organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its network includes prominent practitioners in law enforcement, development, and governance committed to finding new and innovative strategies and responses to organised crime.

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