Holding Internet Giants Accountable for Appalling Sale of Whale and Ivory Products

EIA and Humane Society International researchers were shocked to discover ads promoting the sale of elephant ivory and whale products on internet giant Google and Amazon.com websites. Both Google, the world’s largest search engine, and Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, have laudable policies against the sale of products from these endangered and threatened species, but appeared not to be enforcing them in practice.  Upon this discovery, EIA immediately appealed to the CEOs of both Google and Amazon.com to remove ads promoting the sale of whale and ivory products on their Japanese shopping sites.

We wrote to Google CEO Larry Page in February 2013 requesting immediate removal of over 1,400 ads that promoted whale products and as many as 10,000 ads that promoted elephant ivory products on Google Japan's Shopping site. After receiving no response, we issued a press release in March highlighting Google’s ads and sale of ivory and whale products, and Google eventually removed the product ads. Learn more about EIA’s findings and Google’s policies in this short briefing.

Similarly, we contacted Amazon.com’s CEO with information about tens of thousands of ads for ivory products displayed on their Japanese website. Amazon.com took action almost immediately by removing most of the ivory ads, yet approximately 3,000 ads still offered ivory for sale. EIA followed up with a separate press release and Amazon.com responded by promptly removing the remaining ads. Last year, EIA launched a successful campaign that resulted in Amazon.com banning the sale of whale products, removing a large amount of whale products from the Japanese market.

Internet companies have facilitated the expansion of the illegal wildlife trade over the past decade, and must take measures to halt their role in this trade. The elephant poaching crisis has reached crisis levels; 25,000 elephants are estimated to be killed in Africa each year for their ivory, which is then used in products such as Japanese “hanko,” or name seals, and to make trinkets to feed mostly Asian markets.

For these leading multinational companies to stand by and allow the sale of ivory products, and financially benefit from the slaughter of elephants, is appalling. It is crucial for global companies to take responsibility for upholding international laws as well as their own policies regarding endangered and threatened species products.

After EIA’s appeal and press attention, Amazon.com and Google were proactive in removing the ads; however, EIA appealed to Google and Amazon.com to not only remove the ads for ivory and whale products, but also to remain vigilant in enforcing their policies in the future. While the products EIA researchers identified have been removed, we will continue to engage to ensure the online sale of whale and elephant products on Amazon.com and Google does not resume.