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Difference Between Cartel and Mafia

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The words "cartel" and "mafia" are often used in the media and everyday conversation, but they can refer to very different things.

A cartel is an organization of producers or suppliers who agree to work together to fix prices, limit production, or control the distribution of a product or service. On the other hand, the mafia is a type of organized crime group that originated in Italy and is involved in a wide range of illegal activities.

In this article, we will explore the differences between cartels and the mafia, including the different meanings of the word "cartel" and the activities in which each type of organization is typically involved.


What is a Cartel?

cartel pablo escobar
Pablo Escobar, the man behind the notorious Medellín Cartel

The word "cartel" has its origins in the Latin word "cartellum," which means a small piece of paper or cardboard. In the 14th century, the term "cartel" was used to refer to a document exchanged between two parties to negotiate a settlement or agreement. The word "cartel" was later used to refer to any agreement or compact between two or more parties, and it eventually came to be used to refer to an organization of producers or suppliers who agree to work together to fix prices, limit production, or control distribution of a product or service.

The word "cartel" can also refer to:

  • a group of countries working together to coordinate economic policies,
  • a group of political or military organizations working together to achieve a common goal,
  • a group of individuals or organizations engaging in illegal activities such as drug trafficking or money laundering.

What is the Mafia?

mafia cosa nostra
Charles Luciano, known as "Lucky Luciano", a famous member of the Sicilian mafia Cosa Nostra

The word "mafia" has its origins in the Sicilian language and is derived from the Arabic word "māfiyā," which means "bragging" or "boasting."

The mafia is a type of organized crime group that originated in Italy and is known for its involvement in a wide range of illegal activities.

The mafia is typically associated with different types of rackets and for using violence and intimidation to maintain control over its operations and protect its members.

Activities of a Cartel

The activities of a cartel can vary, but they are often focused on fixing prices, limiting production, or controlling distribution to improve profits.

Some cartels operate legally in industries such as oil and gas, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals, while others engage in illegal activities such as price-fixing and are subject to criminal penalties. Cartels may also be formed in industries with high entry barriers, such as transportation or utilities.

There are also drug cartels that produce, distribute, and sell illegal drugs, using violence and intimidation to maintain control over their operations.

The effects of cartel activity on prices and competition can be significant. When a cartel is able to fix prices or limit production, it can lead to higher prices for consumers and reduced competition in the market. This can result in lower-quality products and reduced innovation. In some cases, cartels can also lead to shortages of certain products or services, which can have severe consequences for consumers and businesses.

In the case of drug cartels, their illegal activities can also have serious social and public health consequences.

Activities of the Mafia

The activities of the mafia, also known as the "mob" or "organized crime," are typically focused on illegal activities such as extortion, loan sharking, gambling, and drug trafficking. The mafia is generally associated with protection rackets, which offer businesses protection in exchange for a fee. In these schemes, the mafia threatens to harm a business or its employees unless it pays them a regular sum of money.

The mafia is also known for its involvement in illicit activities such as money laundering and counterfeiting. They may also engage in legitimate businesses as a front for their illegal operations.

The mafia is typically highly organized, with a strict hierarchy and a code of secrecy known as "omerta."

The activities of the mafia can have severe consequences for society. The illegal activities of the mafia can lead to increased crime and corruption, and the use of violence and intimidation can create a climate of fear in communities where the mafia operates. In addition, the mafia's involvement in legitimate businesses can distort competition and harm the economy.


Examples of cartels include:

  1. The OPEC Cartel is an oil-producing country organization formed in 1960. OPEC has played a significant role in setting the price of oil. It has been accused of engaging in price-fixing and other practices designed to reduce competition and increase profits.
  2.  The Diamond Cartel was a group of diamond mining companies that controlled the production and distribution of diamonds in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Diamond Cartel was able to fix prices and limit production in order to maintain high prices for diamonds.
  3.  The Silicon Valley Cartel was a group of high-tech companies accused of colluding to avoid hiring each other's employees to keep wages low.
  4.  The Medellín Cartel was a Colombian drug trafficking organization active in the 1970s and 1980s. The Medellín cartel was one of the most influential and violent drug cartels in history and was responsible for producing and distributing large quantities of cocaine.

Examples of the mafia include:

  1. The Cosa Nostra is a Sicilian mafia organization active in Italy and other countries. The Cosa Nostra is known for its involvement in many illegal activities, including extortion, gambling, and drug trafficking.
  2.  The Russian Mafia is a group of organized crime organizations that operate in Russia and other countries. The Russian Mafia is known for its involvement in illegal activities such as extortion, money laundering, and arms trafficking.
  3.  The Yakuza is a Japanese mafia organization involved in various illegal activities, including gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do drug cartels differ from other types of cartels?

Drug cartels are similar to other types of cartels in that they are organizations that engage in the production, distribution, and sale of illegal drugs.

However, drug cartels are often more heavily involved in violence and intimidation than other types of cartels and may operate on a global scale.

Do cartels and mafia still exist?

Yes, cartels and the mafia still exist in various parts of the world.

While there have been efforts to crack down on these types of organizations, they continue to operate in many countries and have been able to adapt to changing circumstances.

Cartels and the mafia can be difficult to eliminate because they often have significant resources and can use violence and intimidation to protect their operations.

In addition, some cartels and the mafia have established relationships with government officials or other powerful individuals, making it more difficult to take action against them.

What industries are prone to cartel formation?

Industries that are prone to cartel formation are those in which a few firms control a large share of the market and can influence prices.

Examples of industries in which cartels may form include oil and gas, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and industries with high barriers to entry, such as transportation or utilities.


Understanding the differences between these two types of organizations is important because they can significantly impact society and the economy.

Cartels can distort competition and lead to higher prices for consumers, while the illegal activities of the mafia can increase crime and corruption and create a climate of fear in communities where they operate.

It is important for individuals and policymakers to be aware of the differences between cartels and the mafia to address their negative impacts and promote a more fair and competitive society.

Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.
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About the Author: Nicolas Seignette

Nicolas Seignette, who holds a scientific baccalaureate, began his studies in mathematics and computer science applied to human and social sciences (MIASHS). He then continued his university studies with a DEUST WMI (Webmaster and Internet professions) at the University of Limoges before finishing his course with a professional license specialized in the IT professions. On 10Differences, he is in charge of the research and the writing of the articles concerning technology, sciences and mathematics.
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