eBay Joins Crusade Against Ivory Poaching

eBay will move to ban international sales of ivory-based products from its auction platform, the company said, citing a recent report showing that the vast majority of such items contain illegally obtained ivory.

Scoring public relations points by following the call of a leading international animal rights group, eBay said the ban would go into effect later this month.

eBay announced the ban at a conference on international animal rights in The Hague, Netherlands, on Tuesday, where some 170 countries were set to discuss a proposal to institute a 20-year global moratorium on all ivory trading as part of a larger agenda under the auspices of the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

A Step Forward

The move came after eBay executives met with representatives of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which said in a report recently that nine out of every 10 ivory items sold online contain ivory from poached elephant tusks.

The ban is “fantastic news,” said Peter Pueschel, the head of IFAW’s Global Program Against Wildlife Trade, because of eBay’s “commercial and financial might” and its international reach.

“IFAW believes that this is an important step forward, but that a total ban is ultimately needed, and we will continue to work with eBay and others to implement this,” he said.

Because it is mainly a commerce platform enabling person-to-person trading, eBay has long walked a tightrope when it comes to regulating what its community of users can buy and sell.

Pattern Found

The site’s rules ban trade of illegal items, and eBay has from time to time stepped in to halt what it feels are distasteful or exploitative sales, such as when it put a lid on sales of certain items relating to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Both eBay and Yahoo have found themselves caught up in international controversies in the past as well over the sale of controversial items such as Nazi memorabilia.

In the case of ivory, eBay said it acted after the IFAW’s report found that more than 90 percent of the ivory items being sold in eBay stemmed from “potentially illegal” sources.

IFAW carried out a survey of items being auctioned on the platform in February of this year and found that 94 percent of the items could not be verified as coming from legitimate sources, the group said. eBay’s previous policies on ivory sales “varied from country to country and were often vague and not enforced,” IFAW added.

The IFAW claims that as many as 20,000 elephants are illegally killed each year in order to supply ivory to markets around the world. Ivory is used to make jewelry and other items, and some African nations are backing a relaxation of an existing ban on the trade, citing a rebound in African elephant populations in recent years.

Doing Good Globally

For eBay, the ban may mean lost revenue, but is also a chance to burnish its image as a globally aware, environmentally conscious company, something that may pay especially large dividends as eBay relies on international sales for an increasing amount of its revenue every year.

“eBay has a presence in a lot of countries around the world where corporate responsibility is an important part of a company’s brand image,” Forrester Research analyst Carrie Johnson told the E-Commerce Times. “It has to consider more than just the U.S. when it makes decisions about its platform.”

For eBay, the ivory issue is a minor one compared to the challenges it faces in growing its business and integrating its recent varied acquisitions, such as the Skype Internet calling company and more recently the StumbleUpon social networking and Web discovery site.

“eBay has been performing well,” noted JupiterResearch analyst Patti Freeman Evans. “It’s still managing to find growth, though it has challenges ahead.”

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