Hong Kong Customs displays 82.5kg of rhino horns from South Africa and destined for Malaysia. Photo: ISD

Japan’s Latest Tokyo 2020 Supporter Leads the World’s Elephant Ivory Sales

Japan’s leading online retailer of elephant ivory products, Yahoo Japan Corporation, is one of the most recent official supporters of the upcoming 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as announced by the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020). With thousands of ivory products for sale online in the largest remaining legal domestic ivory market, Yahoo Japan is the leading seller of elephant ivory and world’s worst ivory offender.

Over the years, the Environmental Investigation Agency and our colleagues in Japan have documented thousands of ads for ivory products on Yahoo Japan’s Shopping and Auction sites. Between 2009 and 2017, there were nearly 130,000 closing bids for ivory on Yahoo Japan Auctions, including nearly 1,800 whole ivory tusks. Likewise, during a four week period in 2018, more than 4,400 ivory products plus 35 whole tusks were identified. Ignoring numerous appeals to end its sales, Yahoo Japan has isolated itself both in Japan and internationally.

Yahoo Japan’s main competitors in Japan have all voluntarily banned ivory sales, including Rakuten and Mercari in 2017, and Amazon Shopping and Google Shopping in years before, in addition to other international retailers like eBay. Retail giant Aeon’s banned ivory sales in 2015 and a ban on all sales of ivory in its malls across Japan will go into effect in March 2020, before the 2020 Games start in July. These private sector actors have been proactive in ending the trade in ivory to protect the world’s iconic elephants from being poached for their tusks.

Most of the world’s major legal domestic ivory markets have closed or are in the process of closing, including the United States, China, United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan, France and Belgium. In contrast, Japan’s legal ivory market is the largest remaining, with more than 16,000 active retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers, and Yahoo Japan leading the way.

Nations party to the global treaty on international trade in wildlife (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES) will meet in August in Geneva, and Japan’s ivory trade is under international scrutiny. In 2016, nations agreed by consensus to a resolution calling for the closure of domestic ivory markets where such trade is linked to illegal trade or poaching, but Japan has yet to adapt its policies in any meaningful way even though there is ample evidence of ongoing illegal trade in ivory.

The vast majority of African elephant range states are calling on Japan end its ivory sales to strengthen its international conservation image in advance of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Japan’s thriving ivory trade conflicts with the Tokyo Olympics’ sustainability theme, and Yahoo Japan’s supporter position tarnishes the reputation of Tokyo 2020. Yahoo Japan’s ivory sales are out of step with the values embraced by the Olympics and undercut the Olympics’ declared commitments to sustainability and integrity.

Ten million international visitors will go to Japan in support of their nations for the 2020 Games. With legal ivory readily available, tourists who purchase ivory trinkets could unknowingly illegally export their ivory souvenirs, undermining the ivory bans in place in China, the US and elsewhere. Chinese Customs officials have seized more ivory coming from Japan so far in 2019 than in all of 2018. Ivory purchased on Yahoo Japan has also found its way out of Japan, including most recently as part of a large smuggling operation out of Osaka to China. Japanese enforcement officials’ minimal efforts have been ineffective at stopping the flow of illegal ivory exports to China through Japan’s international mail.

Yahoo Japan, and its parent company SoftBank, are falling far short of international expectations and standards, isolating themselves in the industry as the world’s largest remaining online retailer of elephant ivory at a time when most markets are closing. To demonstrate its dedication to sustainability, Yahoo Japan must voluntarily and urgently act to end the sale of ivory products on Yahoo! Japan Shopping and Auctions, ceasing all sales by the end of 2019 in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Anything short of this will further blot the reputation of Yahoo! Japan, the host country and the Tokyo 2020 Games, and be a harsh rejection of international efforts to protect the world’s remaining elephants.