TRAFFIC surveys find thousands of ivory items sold weekly online in Japan

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© TRAFFIC

Tokyo, Japan, 8th August 2017—TRAFFIC surveys of Japan’s online domestic ivory markets in 2017 have found high volumes of sales across online shopping malls, auction sites and emerging CtoC (Customer to Customer) websites, with thousands of advertisements posted every week. The significant number of ivory products being offered and traded online in Japan is of concern.

Over a four-week period in May and June 2017, TRAFFIC found a staggering 2,447 ivory items were auctioned every week on average on Yahoo Auction, one of the country’s largest e-commerce platforms. The value of these weekly transactions is estimated at JPY45.2 million (USD407,000).
 
Emerging online CtoC markets are also being used by individuals using smartphones for trading personal ivory items: an average of 143 new advertisements were uploaded every week on Mercari, Japan’s leading online CtoC market.

Japan’s current legal framework regulates ivory trade by commercial businesses but not by individuals except when whole tusks are concerned.

Although nearly half of the sellers on Yahoo Auction did not self-identify as operating as commercial businesses, it was clear that many were, based on the list of other auctions they were holding.

Furthermore, the survey of CtoC markets also revealed a significant proportion of sellers offering multiple ivory items (23% and 25% on Mercari and Rakuma, respectively) and presumably operating businesses on these platforms. Some were even promoting ivory items because of their increasing rarity.
 
Of particular concern was the lack of regulation over domestic trade, where no proof of the legality is required for products other than whole tusks. The number of advertisements for “new” ivory jewellery brought back from Asia and Africa in contravention of international legislation further substantiated this concern.

In June, the Japanese government revised LCES[1], the country’s domestic legislation governing trade in ivory, to tighten the registration of ivory businesses, with stricter legal consequences in case of non-compliance.

“TRAFFIC’s findings highlight the need for the Japanese government to scrutinize all online ivory trade and to ensure effective enforcement of the strengthened ivory business regulations introduced through recent LCES amendments,” said Tomomi Kitade, Programme Officer for TRAFFIC in Japan.

Nevertheless, the latest surveys did find some evidence of improved compliance: some 88% of sellers on Yahoo Auction and 85% on Rakuten-Ichiba[2] displayed compulsory business notification numbers in 2017, compared to 11% and 22%, respectively, that did so in 2014.

While on Yahoo Shopping, where a majority of sellers operated without notifications in 2014, all but three shops, all selling smaller pieces of ivory, had made notifications in 2017.

These significant improvements are a result of monitoring initiatives undertaken by e-commerce companies following the publication of TRAFFIC’s first report into online ivory markets in Japan in 2014.

The snapshot survey revealed distinct patterns of online trade through shopping malls, where new ivory products, in particular hanko name seals, were offered; auctions sites, where carvings and netsukes were the largest product types followed by jewellery; and CtoC sites where ivory jewellery predominated.

Last year, CITES Parties recommended the closure of domestic ivory markets that contribute to poaching and/or illegal trade and adopted new decisions to combat wildlife cybercrime.

TRAFFIC recommends the Japanese government address a number of aspects concerning internal ivory trade urgently—including the introduction of comprehensive regulations for all types of trade beyond just whole tusks and trade by registered ivory businesses—and should encourage the introduction of stricter measures by the e-commerce sector, such as Rakuten, Inc.’s ban on ivory and bekko sales.

“An urgent overhaul of Japan’s ivory market oversight and regulation is needed to ensure it does not undermine the global fight against illegal ivory trade,” said Kitade.

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