Business, Economics and Jobs

Japan's version of gets reamed for selling illegal ivory and whale products


Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten's logo in Tokyo, March 18, 2014.


Kazuhiro Nogi

The internet is abuzz this week with news that Rakuten, Japan's, is the world's leading online retailer of elephant ivory and whale products.

This news came in the form of a new report, "Blood e-commerce: Rakuten's profits from the slaughter of elephants and whales," from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an NGO.

Rakuten, as nearly every news report has echoed, carries 28,000 ads for elephant ivory and 1,200 for whale meat, according to the report.

Disturbing, to say the least. Particularly since about 30,000 elephants are poached in Africa each year for their ivory, and every year Japanese whalers kill hundreds of whales.

But while this may be morally repugnant, it is not, at least ostensibly, technically illegal.

Right. How is that again?

A little thing we call the loophole.

"Japan claims exceptions to international bans on the commercial trade of elephant ivory and whale meat," Quartz reports. Indeed, since 1999, Japan has been able to buy stockpiled ivory from African nations.

This "legal" ivory is fair play on the domestic market. Trouble is, it's really hard to tell "legal" from "illegal" ivory, especially when the government doesn't enforce regulations.

According to EIA's report, at least some of the ivory products Rakuten sells is from newly poached endangered African elephants — they say they can tell due to the size of the ivory pieces like this one:

As far as whaling, Japan is exempt from treaties banning that as well, for "scientific research," but still, the report states that many of the whale products Rakuten is selling come from species protected by the International Whaling Commission.

Rakuten is really making a name for itself. Fast delivery. Wide selection. Morally reprehensible.