Activists are putting pressure on Yahoo to curb the sale of ivory products on its websites in Japan, arguing that the company is fueling–and profiting from–illegal elephant poaching.
More than one million people have signed an online petition launched by activist organization Avaaz urging the technology giant to stop the “deadly” ivory trade taking place through Yahoo Japan’s eBay-like auction site, which runs alongside its web search and advertising business.
While Yahoo Japan is an independent company, the Sunnyvale-headquartered company owns a 35 percent stake in the business.
Avaaz appears to be targeting Yahoo Inc. in order to make maximum impact at at a time when the company’s leadership is under the microscope. The campaign references Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer in the same breath as Yahoo Japan’s CEO Manabu Miyasaka as well as “all other companies allowing ivory sales online.”
“The ivory trade is pushing elephants to the edge of extinction, and Yahoo is making a killing from trinket sales in Japan. But right now we have a chance to end this corporate complicity,” the activists’ manifesto says.
Avaaz urged the 80,000 signatories of the campaign with Yahoo email addresses to contact Marissa Mayer on Twitter and Facebook and tell her to “stop the slaughter,” which they are doing in droves.
Slaughter for Trinkets
According to the UN, around 100 elephants per day are slaughtered by poachers taking part in the illegal ivory trade. Demand for ivory comes largely from China, Japan and other countries in Asia where the material is viewed as a traditional symbol of wealth and status.
An investigation into Yahoo Japan’s auction site carried out by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an advocacy group, found that between 2012 and 2014 more than 12 tons of whole tusks and ivory trinkets were sold through the platform. In 2014 this trade represented $7 million in sales–of which Yahoo would take a small transaction and listing fee.
Some of the most commonly sold ivory items on the auction site are name seals–carved stamps (known as “hanko”) that are used instead of a signature to sign important documents and contracts in Japan.
The favored type of ivory used to make name seals in Japan comes from forest elephants, which exist in only six African countries. This species has experienced a 65 percent population decline between 2002 and 2013, a situation that EIA describes as “dire”.
Yahoo is keen to distance itself from the Japanese company operating under its brand.
“Yahoo, Inc. is an investor in Yahoo Japan and does not have controlling ownership. As such, Yahoo Japan determines their own policies and we refer you to the Yahoo Japan team for comment regarding their policies,” said a company spokeswoman in a statement.
“That said, we understand the concerns and we in no way condone the sale of products made with ivory obtained from any animal at risk of extinction.”
Yahoo Japan said that it only sells ivory from legal sources, which includes antique ivory and tusks from legal one-off sales of stockpiled ivory. Whenever someone lists an ivory product on its auction site there is a pop-up clarifying these guidelines and asking the seller to ensure that the ivory is legally obtained.
“Once we discover illegal listing of products, we take appropriate measures such as deletion of listing in collaboration with the relevant authorities such as the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry,” a Yahoo Japan spokeswoman said.
A Significant Stake
Sites under the control of Yahoo Inc.–such as Yahoo Shopping, which aggregates product listings from around the web–do prohibit the sale of ivory. This is because it falls under the category of “products obtained from endangered or threatened species” in its advertising policies.
Avaaz Campaign Director Bert Wander told WIRED: “Our assessment is they [Yahoo Inc] have a significant stake in Yahoo Japan–which is using the Yahoo brand–and they are profiting directly from these sales. It’s completely incredible that with that brand and that stake they wouldn’t have influence over Yahoo Japan’s policies.”
Yahoo isn’t the only Japanese company to provide a marketplace for ivory–native e-commerce giant Rakuten also lists thousands of trinkets each year.
The international commercial trade of ivory was banned in 1989 in an agreement that Japan signed up to. However trade in the country has continued using loopholes relating to antique ivory and one-off sales of legal, government-owned stocks of ivory mostly from culled elephants.
Conservationists argue and criminal investigations and seizures appear to confirm that the legal trade in ivory can serve as a cover for illegal trade.
“We won’t let go. If we need to up the pressure we will,” added Wander.