Countering Trafficking

Working Group on Countering Trafficking of Cultural Materials

Looting is often regarded as an unfortunate side-effect of armed conflict and environmental disaster, but it can cause extensive damage in its own right. History has many examples of victorious armies removing the cultural property of the enemy they have just defeated as the ‘spoils of war’, which is known today as pillage (that is, looting by armies, rather than looting by civilians). At one time, it was common practice for armies to pay their troops in this way. Today, studies have shown people loot from economic desperation, greed, lack of awareness, and a number of other reasons. It not only results in the loss of the cultural heritage for the community, but the money gained from selling looted and stolen objects may be used to buy weapons, contribute to organised crime and terrorism, and prolong conflict. You can read more about this on our Threat to Heritage page…

Antiquities in storage wrapping
Seized Antiquities, (c) Blue Shield Belgium

Blue Shield has founded a Working Group specifically to contribute to tackling trafficking of cultural objects. The committee is composed of experts in the international trade and trafficking of cultural materials.

Its members form a network of experts who engage in public outreach, assist law enforcement when requested, and provide informal advice, particularly to countries and individuals who have suffered from illegal removal of cultural materials.

Their work is founded in international law. Visit our Law Library to find out more about illicit trafficking, and the laws preventing it!

The Working Group has become aware of cases where academics, scholars, museum, library and archive professionals, and other material cultural heritage subject matter experts (“SMEs”) have been discussing materials which are under investigation or possible investigation or their possible legal status, whether in an academic publication, any form of social media, a blog, a news story, or semi-popular publication. Doing so may disrupt the investigation and may pass on information that may be used by those involved in the trafficking or current handling of these materials to their advantage, and we urge those considering doing so to read this Guidance Note.

Guidance for Subject Matter Experts_OCT 2023

Watch this video to learn more about their work!

You can contact the Working Group at

blueshield.illegaltrafficking (at)

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