eBay To Institute Global Ban on Ivory Sales

By: Richard Brewer-Hay

One thing I have found fascinating over my first year here at eBay is the variety of topics covered in both email and in meetings. Beyond the typical marketing or PR planning meetings there are hundreds of different policies and rules in place regarding what can or cannot be sold in the marketplace. Each policy change requires careful deliberation of the pros and cons before instituting. (I remember one email chain a few months back about a cornflake shaped liked the state of Illinois!).

Elephant in Botswana

Last week I was included in a discussion about the sale of ivory on eBay. This is a particularly complex issue that a team inside the company has been looking at for some time, in consultation with a number of stakeholders. Now, I’m not one to get political on this blog but I do feel quite strongly about the ivory trade. Global demand for ivory has long been a significant factor in the poaching of African and Asian elephants, driving these species towards extinction – to such a degree that both types of elephants are now considered endangered or protected species. As such, trade in ivory derived from African and Asian elephants is highly regulated by a complex set of laws, treaties and regulations. I learned last week that while domestic laws vary, 171 countries came together about 10 years ago to ratify the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (known as CITES), which generally prohibits international trade in endangered plants and animals, and products derived from them.

Virtually every country, including the United States, has passed laws restricting or prohibiting the sale of ivory, and within the US, 22 states have laws on the books regulating this trade. The cornerstone law in the US is the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which generally prohibits the import, export, possession, and sale of species or parts of species listed as endangered or threatened in interstate or foreign commerce. This Act also implements the restrictions and prohibitions of CITES into US law.

eBay recognizes the distinct responsibilities that come along with the unique attributes of our global marketplace. That’s why, in keeping with the principles established under CITES, eBay banned cross-border sales of ivory in 2007. This ban tried to balance the protection of endangered and protected species while also providing a way for sellers to offer legitimate ivory products legally allowed for sale within domestic markets. However, given the complexities of the global ivory trade, and the distinct and unique characteristics of the eBay Marketplace, the sale of any ivory on our site continued to be a concern within the company and among stakeholders.

The team continued to monitor the issue. Hence the meeting I was called into last week. In reviewing this issue, eBay has consulted with a number of organizations, including World Wildlife Fund, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The team concluded that we simply can’t ensure that ivory listed for sale on eBay is in compliance with the complex regulations that govern its sale. So, to protect our buyers and sellers, as well as animals in danger of extinction, eBay has decided to institute a global ban on the sale of all types of ivory. This global ban will be effective January 1, 2009.

I was able to spend a few minutes with Jack Christin, Sr. Regulatory Counsel for eBay Inc. to discuss this further. Our resulting conversation is below.

Cheers,
RBH

Why has eBay decided to ban ivory sales?
eBay already had stringent regulations in place for the sale of ivory, which is regulated by a complex set of laws and treaties. Due to the unique nature of eBay’s global online marketplace and the complexity surrounding the sale of ivory, we will be rolling out a complete ban of the sale of ivory on eBay. We feel this is the best way to protect the endangered and protected species from which a significant portion of ivory products are derived.

As with all policy changes, this one will take some time to roll out. As we roll-out this change, we will continue to work with a number of international and domestic law enforcement authorities with any investigations they initiate into suspicious ivory sales on eBay sites. We will begin enforcing this global ban in January 2009.

So what’s different now to the original policy?
eBay is a global online marketplace so we are constantly looking at ways to streamline our policies.

Over the years we have adapted and evolved our policies globally to reflect the highly regulated nature of ivory and products made from ivory, and we have worked with a number of international and domestic law enforcement authorities, like the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and non-governmental organizations, like the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States and World Wildlife Fund. These agencies and organizations have expertise in this area and have provided incredibly useful information to us as we have continued to re-evaluate our ivory policy.

However, due to the unique nature of eBay’s global online marketplace and the growing complexity of the rules and regulations surrounding the sale of legal ivory, we will be moving from a ban on cross-border sales to rolling out a complete ban of the sale of ivory on eBay. This policy is actually consistent with our general approach to the sale of items made from parts of animals — items made from a part of an endangered or protected species cannot be sold on eBay. Since a vast majority of ivory items are made from African and Asian elephants that are endangered or protected, we think this is the right approach to take for our community.

When will this be put into effect?
This policy change will take place in December 2008 and will be enforced from January 2009.

Is this simply a reactionary response to the report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare?
We’ve consulted with a number of stakeholders, including folks from IFAW both here in the U.S. and globally. We are constantly adapting and evolving our policies globally. Over the years, we have collaborated on our policy regarding ivory with a number of international and domestic law enforcement authorities, including the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and non-governmental organizations, like the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States and World Wildlife Fund. All of these organizations and agencies have assisted us in understanding this issue.

We are already in dialogue with a number of international and domestic law enforcement authorities and have already informed our key contacts about the planned policy change and their reaction has been supportive.

Will the ban on ivory sales include items which happen to include ivory, such as antique furniture with an ivory inlay or old pianos with keys made from ivory?
We will allow some antique items that contain a small amount of ivory, such as a table with a small ivory inlay or an antique piano with ivory keys. We define “antique” for the sale of items that contain a small amount of ivory as pre-1900.

Items which contain a significant amount of ivory, regardless of the age, such as chess sets, ivory broaches and ivory jewelry are not permitted under the new policy.

Do you take action against sellers who are breaking the law?
We work closely with international and domestic law enforcement authorities, including the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and will assist them with any investigations they initiate.

Does this mean you are now looking at other policies and changing them more than what is legally required?
Our global team of legal and policy experts constantly review, refresh and streamline our policies closely collaborating with international and domestic law enforcement authorities, regulatory agencies, non-governmental organizations and our community of buyers and sellers.

How does this affect genuine ivory sellers who want to sell it on eBay? What about buyers who want to buy legal ivory on eBay?
We already had stringent regulations in place for the sale of ivory. However, due to the unique nature of eBay’s global online marketplace and the growing complexity of the rules and regulations surrounding the sale of ivory, we decided to roll out a complete ban of the sale of ivory on eBay to protect our buyers, sellers, and the endangered and protected species from which ivory is derived.

We know this may have an impact on some sellers so are communicating the policy changes directly with them prior to the new policy being implemented. This policy change will take place in December 2008 and enforced from January 2009.

Related Reads:
NY Times Bits Blog: eBay Bans Sale of Ivory
TameBay: eBay to ban all ivory sales
Humane Society of the United States: eBay Bans All Ivory Trade Worldwide
Silicon Alley Insider: eBay To Ban One of Its Fastest Growing Businesses: Ivory Sales
Associated Press: Ebay to ban sales of ivory products in January
WebProNews: eBay To Implement Global Ban On Ivory Sales
In the Field: A win for the elephants – but what about the birds?
Los Angeles Times: EBay bans the sale of ivory…elephants everywhere do the cabbage-patch
InformationWeek: eBay And Ivory Won’t Live Side-By-Side
ChannelWeb: ‘Killing With Keystrokes:’ EBay Bans Ivory Sales
TechRadar: eBay to ban sale of ivory goods, Is rest of the elephant fair ‘game’?
Bright Green Blog: eBay bans ivory sales
San Jose Mercury News: Tech News in Brief: eBay, Lala.com, SanDisk
Sky News, UK: Ebay’s Global Ban On Ivory Sales
CTV.ca: eBay bans ivory sales ahead of damning report
Digital Trends: eBay to Ban All Ivory Sales
TechWhack: eBay to ban sale of ivory products on its service
Daily Mail, UK: Auction site eBay bans ivory sales to protect endangered elephants
IT Wire: The elephant in the eBay auction room
Nine MSN: EBay bans all ivory sales
IFAW: eBay announces ivory ban in wake of IFAW report