On January 15, 2013, the faculty of the WVU College of Law had the privilege of hosting international law scholar and Indiana University professor Karen Bravo. Bravo discussed her current research in her talk entitled Illicit International Markets. While Bravo says that she does not emphasize human rights but rather the flow of goods and services, the three examples of illicit markets she highlighted were had significant human rights implications. First, Bravo talked about the phenomenon of “wombs for rent” – is a growing population of low caste women in India who are willing to serve as surrogates for a price. Second, she touched on organ harvesting and the black market surrounding people willing to sell their kidneys. Finally, Prof. Bravo mentioned Kenyan villagers harvesting ivories from rhinos and elephants to sell in the Asian marketplace.
Bravo’s discussion focused on the interplay between illicitness and illegality, and how they function – both together and separately. She made clear that not all illicit markets are illegal especially in a global economy and vice versa. The illicitness of a market really depends on the perceptions of the society within which it exists. Perhaps moral condemnation exists or the nature of the dangerousness of the product deems it illicit. Perhaps no positive law regulates its presence in the market and that makes it illicit. Mostly, the illicitness stems from ideas of culture and cultural norms. Because illicitness is not a concrete characteristic, it can be a fluid concept especially when tied into illegality.
Bravo’s discussion of the American drug war and how it has shaped the international market was especially compelling. She noted that sometimes the illicitness or even the illegality of a thing in a certain market can make it that much more profitable and desirable to produce in another place. She also noted that oftentimes, the market will create complimentary illegal activities. For example, drugs and violence go hand in hand and seem to perpetuate one another. While the worlds of illicit and illegal markets are not synonymous, they frequently collide and co-exist.
Ideas of trade and non-judgment were also themes that ran through the discussion of the day. Goods that are coveted and readily traded in one culture (such as the ivory trinkets in Asian markets) may be deemed illicit and/or illegal in another culture. However, because the market exists, a provider will exist as well. That provider or harvester of the ivory might have other options of employment and they might not, but whose ideas of illicitness or illegality should be imposed upon him as he carries out the tasks of his occupation?
Bravo provided a glimpse into illicit international markets and their effects on communities external of themselves. We at the COL were honored to hear a glimpse into this cutting edge scholarship on the intersection of all these different issues with its legal and moral implications.