• Kyodo


E-commerce site Rakuten Inc. notified sellers Tuesday that it will stop all sales of whale and dolphin meat at the end of the month, according to company officials and other sources.

The new policy comes on the heels of a scathing report released by the U.K.-based Environmental Investigation Agency in March that blasted Rakuten for allowing its merchants to sell whale meat and elephant ivory. The report was followed by a social media campaign against the practice, conducted on Twitter and Facebook.

Rakuten sent the message a day after the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop its whaling activities in the Southern Ocean near Australia.

A press release in English on the company’s website does not mention the EIA investigation or the Internet reaction but says the decision was taken in “accordance with the March 31, 2014, ruling by the International Court of Justice.”

However, the court’s decision does not place a blanket ban on Japan’s whaling programs, which will likely continue in the northern Pacific, nor does it address sales of whale meat.

Rakuten’s new policy covers not only the sale of whale and dolphin meat, but also all other parts including skin, bones and appendages, according to the message sent to sellers.

The company also noted it would update its guidelines on banned items to reflect the change and asked merchants to remove affected products from the site by April 30.

Last June, Rakuten Ichiba, the company’s Japanese e-commerce portal, carried over 1,200 ads for whale meat and 28,000 ads for elephant ivory, according to the EIA report, which described the site as the “world’s biggest online marketplace” for the products. A search for the term “whale meat” on Wednesday turned up 2,700 results.

Although Rakuten in its letter to merchants did not mention the report as a cause for the decision to ban whale meat sales, Rakuten Brasil posted a comment on March 20 on its Facebook page stating it had reached out to corporate headquarters about the issue.

EIA told Kyodo News that a customer support adviser from Play.com, Rakuten’s subsidiary website, sent the organization an email on March 21 saying the company was aware of the issue and was “awaiting an official statement from Rakuten Global.”

EIA Senior Campaigner Clare Perry on Wednesday called the company’s announcement of the ban “unexpected” and “fantastic,” adding that the agency will continue urging Rakuten to “stop all elephant ivory sales.”

With over 40,000 sellers, Rakuten Ichiba is the largest Internet shopping mall in Japan. In May 2012, Rakuten led a $100 million investment round in the popular social networking site Pinterest. It purchased the U.S. e-commerce company Buy.com in May 2010.

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