What are sanctions?

Sanctions are punitive actions by one or more countries towards another country or individual (such as the country’s leader) that aim to compel that country or individual to comply with legal obligations. Common types of sanctions include:

  • economic
  • sports
  • military
  • diplomatic
  • sanctions on individuals
  • sanctions on environment

On the international stage, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) instituted the first sanctions regime more than five decades ago on Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). In the ensuing years, the council has established 30 sanctions regimes, 14 of which remain in place today.

The UNSC’s Consolidated Sanctions List includes all individuals and entities that fall under the UNSC sanctions measures. Many countries and other global organisations also adhere to the UNSC’s regimes, including:

  • Her Majesty’s Treasury (United Kingdom)
  • the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI, US)
  • the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC, US)
  • Interpol

Some organisations or nations may also establish their own sanctions lists to address particular threats or other national security concerns.

There are a number of illicit activities that can land organisations or individuals on sanctions lists. These include drug trafficking, money laundering, human-rights violations, terrorism and terrorist financing, violating international treaties, arms proliferation and other forms of corruption.

If your business is operating globally, you want to make sure you’re complying with international sanctions laws. Violating these laws can result in serious legal, reputational and financial implications. To safeguard your business, it’s important to have a strong and agile sanctions compliance program in place that can identify sanctioned individuals and entities.

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