Softbank's Yahoo! Japan refuses to take down unethical ads selling elephant ivory, whale products

Ignoring calls from international environment organisations, the Japanese mobile communications company retains advertisements of elephant ivory, whale and dolphin products on its affiliated search engine website

Japan ivory hanko
Yahoo! Japan, part of Softbank's internet division, has advertisements selling hanko or name stamps allegedly made from illegally traded ivory. Image: Wikicommons via Circa News

Two environmental groups on Tuesday announced their deep disappointment over Softbank Corporation’s continued advertisements of endangered animal products on Yahoo! Japan.

In a joint statement, London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Washington DC-based Humane Society International (HSI) revealed how the Japanese firm allegedly refused their appeal for Yahoo! Japan to stop the sale of elephant ivory and whale and dolphin goods on its website. 

Softbank is the majority stockholder in Yahoo! Japan, a local version of the popular search engine and online information portal. Softbank’s internet business unit earned US$4 billion in revenues in 2012, EIA and HSI reported. 

According to the World Wildlife Fund, another non-government organisation, “It is almost impossible to obtain reliable figures for the value of illegal wildlife trade.” They added that the trafficking of animal parts is similar to the illegal trade of drugs and weapons. 

Just recently, various media reported that $5 million worth of illegal ivory and leopard skins were discovered in Hong Kong, the second bust in a series of ivory seizures in a month. 

Despite the international trade ban in ivory, Yahoo! Japan has a list of nearly 8,000 ads for elephant ivory. This is three times the amount of advertisements in March, when similar websites Amazon and Google started to impose a ban on the marketing of elephant ivory and whale products. 

EIA and HSI explained that 80 per cent of these Yahoo! Japan ads sell hanko or the name seals for stamping and signing of important documents. These are supposedly made from illegally sourced ivory tusks that have been smuggled from Africa. 

On the other hand, the whale and dolphin items advertised on the website are from as far as the Antarctic, where minke whales are killed. There are also illegally killed fin whales from Iceland and Bryde’s, sei and sperm whales from the Northwest Pacific that are sold through the search engine. 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – the global treaty on wildlife protection – classifies these whales as endangered, while African elephants are classified as vulnerable. This signifies that these animals face a high risk of extinction in the wild. 

In their latest statement and in a previous letter to SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son, the EIA and HSI urged the company to address its corporate and social responsibilities.  

They said Softbank recently acquired Sprint, a telecommunications company in the United States, for more than $20 billion, and that should entail catering to a growing ‘international constituency’ and ‘broader social responsibility.’ 

Kitty Block, HSI vice president, said, “Tens of thousands of elephants, whales and dolphins are being killed each year to supply demand for their parts. We urge SoftBank to end their role in this cruel and unnecessary slaughter.” 

“SoftBank has a responsibility to millions of US Sprint customers who will be shocked to discover that SoftBank is profiting from the slaughter of elephants, whales and dolphins,” added Clare Perry, head of the cetaceans campaign at EIA. 

The wildlife advocates urge the Japanese firm to join other Yahoo! websites around the world in banning advertisements selling consumer products made from threatened African elephants and whale and dolphin populations.

They said, “We hope that SoftBank Corp’s direct contact with Yahoo! Japan will yield positive results when all the facts concerning endangered elephants and threatened whales and dolphins are presented and considered.”

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