05/30/2012 04:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Business of Making Bullets Tops $4 Billion

According to a new study by Oxfam, the ammunition trade tops $4 billion and yet the world has little regulation to control and keep track of who the bullets are sold to. The report, "Stop a Bullet, Stop a War," has been published ahead of this summer's Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in New York, where diplomats from around the world will gather to try and hammer out a new global agreement to regulate the trade of weapons and ammunition.

Some countries, including the United States, Syria and Egypt, have recently voiced their opposition to including ammunition in the final treaty text. But the humanitarian group Oxfam believes it is essential that the sale of ammunition is covered by the new agreement, given the devastating impact that the illicit and irresponsible arms trade has on the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, particularly those living in conflict-hit or fragile states such as Afghanistan and Somalia.

Anna Macdonald, head of arms control campaigning at Oxfam, said:

"Guns are useless without bullets; bullets are what turn guns into lethal weapons. It is absolutely essential that the sale of ammunition is included in the treaty and it is far better regulated. It would be totally irrational to leave it out.

The trade in ammunition is lucrative; but while the monetary cost of production is low, the price paid in human lives for the trade in ammunition is incalculable. An Arms Trade Treaty which doesn't include the trade in bullets doesn't make sense."

Oxfam's report reveals how poor regulation of the ammunition trade makes it virtually impossible to put an accurate figure on the number of bullets currently being produced and transferred across the world each year, though estimates hover at around the $12 billion mark -- enough to kill nearly every man, woman and child on the planet twice.

Oxfam says only a minority of countries report on their ammunition exports and there is hardly any monitoring by intergovernmental agencies covering this trade. To make matters worse, data on ammunition is often not listed separately and is just added to data on general arms exports, making it hard to monitor the bullets' final destination.


This summer in New York, the world will attempt for the first time to agree on a global treaty to regulate the trade of weapons and ammunition. The Conference will be held from July 2 to 27.

Of the 34 states that have publicly reported on their arms exports since 2006, 28 did manage to report on ammunition exports as an explicit category including the UK, the U.S. and France. But due to the magnitude of the trade, regulation through an international treaty is urgently needed to ensure transparent reporting.

Oxfam researchers found some of the biggest gaps in information related to undocumented ammunition transfers to war-torn countries. The report says many bullets end up diverted into the hands of armed groups, often prolonging conflicts and increasing the chance of human rights abuses.

For more information on the Arms Trade Treaty and Oxfam's work GO HERE.