Rakuten hit over ivory, whale meat marketing


E-commerce giant Rakuten is the world’s largest online marketplace for elephant ivory and whale meat products, an environmental campaign group has alleged, saying that running the advertisements is akin to arming poachers.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said a search for “ivory” on Rakuten’s Japanese website last month yielded more than 28,000 ads for elephant ivory products.

A search on the site in June 2013 for “whale” called up more than 1,200 food products, many of them originating from protected species, the London-based group said in a report Tuesday.

EIA President Allan Thornton said the advertisements are “effectively as deadly as giving bullets to elephant poachers and harpoons to whalers.”

“Rakuten must act immediately to ban all ads selling elephant and whale products or its global brand will be irrevocably tainted with the ongoing mass slaughter of these species,” he said.

The Tokyo-based company owns several shopping sites around the world, including Rakuten Shopping in the United States, Play.com in Britain and PriceMinister in France. It also owns Canadian e-book reader Kobu and is a major shareholder in Pinterest.

The commercial hunting of whales is prohibited, but Japan hunts under a scientific research loophole in the moratorium.

Ivory trading was banned in 1989 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international agreement between governments, but the illegal ivory trade — estimated to be worth up to $10 billion a year — continues to be fueled by demand in Asia and the Middle East. Africa’s elephant population is estimated at 500,000, compared with 1.2 million in 1980 and 10 million in 1900, and they are listed as vulnerable.