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Summary:

As Rakuten attempts to become a worldwide player in e-commerce, an environmental group is calling on it to stop selling and advertising whale meat and ivory on its Japanese website.

Rakuten whale meat
photo: EIA

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has grabbed headlines in recent months for its big acquisitions ($900 million for messaging platform Viber) and investments ($100 million in Pinterest). Now it’s making news for a different reason: This week, British environmental group the Environmental Investigation Agency, along with the Humane Society International, published a report (PDF) describing Rakuten as “the world’s largest online trader in elephant ivory and whale products.”

The group found thousands of listings and ads for whale meat and ivory on Rakuten Ichiba, the company’s Japanese e-commerce site, which launched in 1997 and is now the largest online marketplace in Japan.

Rakuten has been pushing hard to expand its presence and business holdings around the world. In addition to the Pinterest stake and Viber acquisition, the company owns Buy.com, Play.com, ebook company Kobo and streaming video service Wuaki.tv.

In a statement on the company’s website, CEO Hiroshi Mikitani says, “Since our foundation in 1997 it has been our corporate mission to empower people and society through the internet, while aiming to become the No. 1 Internet services company in the world.”

From EIA’s report:

  • “In June 2013, a search for ‘whale meat’ on http://www.rakuten.co.jp yielded 773 whale products for sale, while the broader term ‘whale’ generated over 1,200 food products. Many of these originated from baleen whales, namely fin, sei, minke and Bryde’s whale, which are all protected species under the moratorium on commercial whaling established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1986. These species are also afforded the highest level of protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits international trade. Despite this, a number of companies were selling endangered fin whale imported from Iceland.”
  • “In February 2014, searches for ‘ivory’ (象牙) revealed that Rakuten Ichiba carried more than 28,000 ads offering elephant ivory products.24 With so many ivory products advertised for sale, more than any other internet provider analysed by EIA, Rakuten Ichiba plays a significant role in supplying the Japanese demand for elephant ivory.”

Among the ivory products advertised on Rakuten Ichiba were “a large carved tusk selling for US$28,186 (¥2,940,000)” and “‘hard’ ivory products, derived from the endangered forest elephants of Central Africa. Ads offer ‘extremely rare’ hard ivory hankos for sale, which are priced from US$4,000 to US$8,000 (¥409,239-¥818,480) each.”

The EIA notes that Amazon and Google prohibit sales of and advertisements for whale, dolphin and ivory through their Japanese sites and calls on Rakuten to “immediately enact a permanent ban on the sale of all elephant, whale and dolphin products.” The organization lists steps you can take to urge Rakuten to do this.

Rakuten did not return my request for comment.

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  1. priscilladeco Friday, March 21, 2014

    When I see thing like this I wish I had the Power to Stop Permanetly all these killing of whales, sharks and dolphins!! These people are Murderers and the do it because of simple ignorance and greed for they only care about making billions while our marine ecosystem dyes! God help there Souls because things like this will come to an end soon!.

    I support Oceania and all the people whom fight against the illegal fishing, killing ocean animals that do not represent any harm nor danger to humans.

    God bless you for sharing this article, Lets keep our voices high! :)

    Kind Regards,

    PM

  2. Overleaf Books Friday, March 21, 2014

    I will never go to Pinterest or Kobo or any other company associated with these murderers.

    Overleaf Books

  3. Mind you, it was CATCA/ACWF that first exposed the e-trade of elephant ivory in Rakuten, Japan. It took us almost 1 year and we completed our report in February 2013, just in time to deliver it at the CITES CoP16 in March 2013 in Bangkok.

    You can find the report here: http://www.catcahelpanimals.org/97.html

    We spent almost a year checking each advertisement for ivory in Rakuten. While there were over twenty thousand ads with the words ivory, Rakuten only had less than 700 ads with real elephant ivory specimens. The rest were other products not related to elephant ivory.

    We have been researching the e-trade of ivory in a formal detailed way for several years and all our reports are done in this way.

  4. You did not mention in the article that Rakuten is also the parent company of Linkshare, an advertising company that does business with major multinational companies like WalMart, Starbucks, Nike, HP and Microsoft. I wonder what they would say about this.

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