Japan’s top e-commerce site to end ivory sales amid evidence of smuggling to China


Simon Denyer, The Washington Post

Date Published

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TOKYO: Japan’s biggest e-commerce platform said on Wednesday it would ban the sale of ivory, joining other competitors and putting renewed pressure on the Japanese government to ban the trade in what is now the world’s largest legal ivory market. 

Yahoo! Japan said it had made the decision after confirming multiple reports that ivory bought on its online auction site was “smuggled abroad and detected by foreign customs authorities,” in contravention of international rules banning cross-border trade. 

The company, which is no longer affiliated to Yahoo! in the United States, said the decision came after consultations with TRAFFIC, a group that monitors illegal wildlife trade and its sister organization, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). Press officer Yoshinari Kaji said ivory had been sent to China and detected by customs authorities there.

“The company’s decision to ban all ivory from its platforms takes full consideration of the elevated risks in continuing such a practice,” said Ryuji Tsutsui, CEO of WWF Japan. “We welcome this critical step taken by Yahoo! Japan to align themselves with the global efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade online.”

After China banned the ivory trade at the end of 2017, Japan became the largest legal market for ivory, driven by demand for hankos: the small stamps Japanese people use in place of signatures for anything from opening a bank account to signing an employment contract.

Many African elephant range states have joined wildlife groups in pleading with Japan and the European Union to close down their domestic ivory markets, arguing that they contribute to illegal cross-border ivory trading and ultimately to elephant poaching. But Japan’s government insists all the ivory in the country was purchased when international trade was legal.

A TRAFFIC study released in 2018 identified Yahoo! Japan as the single biggest online platform for elephant ivory sales in Japan, with 4,414 ivory items plus 35 whole tusks worth more than $340,000 sold over a four-week period in June and July 2018. It said its research revealed a lack of effective regulation over online trade, and evidence of illegal international trade. 

The Environmental Investigation Agency has also documented persistent loopholes in Japan’s domestic ivory controls which facilitate illegal trade.

Other online retailers, including Rakuten and Mercari, heeded advice from TRAFFIC to ban online sales in 2017, with GMO Pepabo following suit earlier this year.

Wildlife groups say Japan’s poorly regulated market and lack of effective controls at its borders represent an easy target for ivory poachers to smuggle and launder poached tusks. 

Although China has tightened customs checks since banning the ivory trade, wildlife groups say poached ivory is still making it way there.

“WWF hopes Yahoo! Japan’s proactive step will encourage the Japanese government to look critically at the country’s domestic market and its influence on international illegal trade,” said Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader.

“WWF’s consumer research reveals Chinese overseas travelers are persistent buyers of ivory even after the domestic ivory market was shut down in mainland China at the end of 2017.

At a key meeting for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in Geneva this month, countries agreed to examine whether existing domestic ivory markets are contributing to poaching or illegal trade, but stopped short of calling for those markets to be immediately closed.

Concerns in Japan have also been heightened by a boom in tourism from China and the approach of the Olympics next year. 

Iris Ho, senior wildlife specialist at Humane Society International, said she hoped Yahoo! Japan’s decision spelled the end of Japan’s domestic ivory market in the near future.

“We now call on the government of Japan to swiftly move towards the complete closure of its domestic ivory market so that the millions of international tourists who will descend on Japan for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games can visit a Japan that is free of elephant ivory trade,” she said.