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BLOODe-COMME R CE:Rakuten’s profitsfrom the slaughter ofelephants and whales

EXECUTIVE SUMMARYACKNOWLEDGEMENTSThanks to Kitty Block and Adam Peyman, of HumaneSociety International, for assisting in the researchfor this report.Thanks to Roxanne Bucaria and Gillian Morrison foradditional research and analysis.For their support of EIA’s work to protect elephants,we are grateful to The Overbrook Foundation, TheShared Earth Foundation and The Briar Patch Fund.The Rakuten Group, via its whollyowned Japanese subsidiary RakutenIchiba (, is theworld’s largest online trader inelephant ivory and whale products.Rakuten Ichiba sells thousands of elephant ivory products, made from the tusksof African elephants that are currently being slaughtered at the rate of up to50,000 a year in the worst ever poaching crisis. Hundreds of whale products,including endangered fin whale from Iceland and products from the whale anddolphin drive hunts in Taiji featured in the documentary The Cove, are also beingsold on Rakuten Ichiba. It is the biggest known online retailer of elephant ivoryand cetacean products in the world.Report design Rakuten Group, through Rakuten Ichiba, is directly responsible for thesesales and is therefore directly profiting from the killing of elephants and whales.March 2014In recent years, international condemnation of Japan’s whale and dolphin hunts,along with concerns about pollution and food safety, have led Japan’s leadingsupermarket chains – AEON, Ito-Yokado, Seiyu and Uny – to prohibit the saleof whale or dolphin products in thousands of stores. Japan’s leading seafoodcompanies Maruha, Kyokuyo and Nippon Suisan have all ended the production ofcanned whale meat and other frozen whale products. Two major online retailers– Amazon and Google – have followed suit, stopping all sales or advertisementsof whale, dolphin and ivory though their Japanese e-commerce sites. Rakutenmust do the same.ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATION AGENCY (EIA)62/63 Upper Street, London N1 0NY, UKTel: 44 (0) 20 7354 7960Fax: 44 (0) 20 7354 7961email: orgEIA USP.O.Box 53343Washington DC 20009 USATel: 1 202 483 6621Fax: 202 986 8626email: R: Mary Rice/EIA & Getty ImagesIn June 2013, a search for ‘whale meat’ on yielded 773 whaleproducts for sale, while the broader term ‘whale’ generated over 1,200 foodproducts. Many of these originated from baleen whales, namely fin, sei, minkeand Bryde’s whale, which are all protected species under the moratorium oncommercial whaling established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC)since 1986. These species are also afforded the highest level of protection by theConvention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(CITES), which prohibits international trade. Despite this, a number of companieswere selling endangered fin whale imported from Iceland. Many products werefrom toothed cetacean species (known as ‘small cetaceans’), namely Baird’sbeaked whales and pilot whales. A further 14 products were not listed with aspecies name, contrary to the requirements of Japan’s labelling laws.Some of the whale products sold by Rakuten Ichiba are highly polluted withmercury and pose a significant risk to the health of consumers. Scientists havedocumented mercury levels more than 1,000 times higher than the Governmentof Japan’s safe advisory level in species caught in Japanese coastal waters.Nine whale products were purchased from Rakuten Ichiba in 2013 and tested formercury. Eight of these exceeded the Japanese national limit for total mercuryconcentration of 0.4 parts per million (ppm), with one sample of pilot whalemeat having a shocking mercury concentration of 9.5 ppm, more than 20 timeshigher than the Japanese regulatory limit. The average mercury level of thenine products was 4.2 ppm, more than 10 times higher than the regulatory limit.

In February 2014, searches for ‘ivory’ on more than 28,000 ads for elephant ivory products,indicating that a significant demand for elephant ivory persistsin Japan. Items found include name seals, jewellery, musicalinstruments, accessories and chopsticks. Over 95 per cent ofproducts available were name seals, or ‘hankos’, used byindividuals and companies to sign documents with theirsignatures engraved into the ivory. Much of Japan’s trade inivory hankos is supported by illegal African elephant ivory –between 2005-10, illegal ivory accounted for up to 87 per centof the ivory hankos produced in Japan. Japan also has a specificdemand for ‘hard ivory’ from Central Africa’s endangered forestelephants and there are many hard ivory products available forsale on Rakuten Ichiba.poached ivory from entering the domestic market. Largenumbers of poached ivory tusks have been laundered intoJapan’s domestic market as a result.In response to devastating poaching levels in the 1980s, theinternational ban on elephant ivory trade went into effect afterthe 1989 CITES Appendix I listing of African elephants, leading toa dramatic reduction of elephant poaching across much of Africaas ivory prices plummeted. However, the ban was underminedwhen CITES later approved two international sales of Africanivory, first to Japan in 1999 and then to Japan and China in2008. Existing legal domestic markets in countries such asJapan continue to fuel the demand for ivory. Japan’s domesticivory controls have failed to comply with the requirements ofCITES to effectively control the trade in ivory and preventAs the Rakuten Group directly profits from Rakuten Ichiba’s saleof elephant and whale products, it is responsible not only forfacilitating the sale of products from endangered and protectedspecies but also for allowing the sale of food products which arehighly contaminated with mercury and a health threat to thepeople consuming them.The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is calling on theRakuten Group and its global affiliates and subsidiaries, includingRakuten Ichiba, to immediately enact a permanent ban on thesale of all elephant, whale and dolphin products. Dave Ross Dreamstime.comAfrica’s elephants are being rapidly wiped out by poaching tomeet the escalating demand for trinkets made from their tusks.By listing ivory products for sale, Rakuten Ichiba is helping tostimulate the market for ivory products in Japan and perpetuateillegal ivory flows and the poaching of elephants. Prominentinternet retailers such as Amazon, Google and eBay have bannedthe sale of elephant ivory on all their controlled sites, includingtheir Japanese sites. The Rakuten Group should follow suit andbecome part of the solution rather than contributing to thepoaching epidemic.2

EIARAKUTEN IN JAPAN ANDITS GLOBAL SHAREHOLDINGSThe Rakuten Group is one of the world'sbiggest internet service companies, withoperations and subsidiaries throughoutAsia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania.1It provides a range of services includinge-commerce, e-books and e-reading,travel and banking.Its flagship e-commerce businessRakuten Ichiba was founded in 1997in Japan.2 It is now Japan’s largeste-commerce marketplace, with morethan 40,000 third-party merchants usingit as a sales platform. It is estimatedthat about seven out of 10 Japanesepeople are members, and as of 2013it had 87.4 million members.3 Salesthrough the Rakuten Ichiba website inJapan generated gross sales of US 9.8billion dollars ( 1.4 trillion) in 2012.4According to the Rakuten Group’s 2012annual report, its total revenue in 2012equalled more than US 4 billion dollars,with a net income of US 244 milliondollars. Revenue from Rakuten Ichiba(which includes sales of whale meatand ivory) accounted for approximately25 per cent of the Rakuten Group’stotal revenue in 2012.5The Rakuten Group’s corporate missionis “to empower people and societythrough the Internet, while aiming to3become the No. 1 Internet servicescompany in the world”. It has made aseries of e-commerce acquisitionsglobally, including household namessuch as in the UK,PriceMinister in France (formerly inthe US, all of which are wholly ownedsubsidiaries of the Rakuten Group.It has also launched e-commerce sitesin Germany, Austria, Brazil, Indonesia,Taiwan, Thailand and China. In 2012,the Rakuten Group’s overseasmarketplace e-commerce transactionvalue grew by 49 per cent year on yearto US 447 million dollars ( 45.7 billion).6In 2012, the Rakuten Group led aUS 100 million investment and acquired the e-readerKobo as a wholly owned subsidiary, aswell as the video-on-demand serviceWuaki TV.7 Kobo is reported to havegained a 20 per cent share of globale-book reader device shipments in 2012,with 12 million users in 197 countries.8Kobu has strategic partnerships with anumber of major national retailers,including WH Smith in the UK,Whitcoulls in New Zealand, FNAC inFrance and Livraria Cultura in Brazil.9Rakuten also recently announced adeal to purchase chat app Viber forUS 900 million.10

RAKUTEN WHALE SALESIn June 2013, a detailed analysisrevealed 773 ‘whale meat’ (鯨肉) itemslisted for sale on Rakuten Ichiba underthe category ‘foods’. Product pricesranged from US 1.47 ( 150) for Baird’sbeaked whale ‘croquettes’ to US 318( 32,500) for 2kg of sei and minkewhale bacon. Subsequent research foundapproximately 1,200 products using thesearch term ‘whale’.The majority of the whale meat sold onRakuten Ichiba is derived from baleenspecies – minke, sei and Bryde’s whalesfrom Japan’s catches in the north Pacificand Antarctic, killed under the spuriousbanner of ‘scientific research’. Thesespecies are internationally protected bythe International Whaling Commission(IWC) and are listed on CITES AppendixI, which prohibits international trade.Approximately 10 per cent (76) ofproducts examined in June 2013 werederived from fin whales from Iceland,a species classified as endangeredaccording to the International Union forthe Conservation of Nature (IUCN).11A further eight products were unlabelledwith a species name but are presumedto include fin whale as the origin of themeat was stated as being partially orsolely derived from Iceland. Iceland andJapan have listed reservations to theCITES Appendix I listing of fin whalesand in their view they are thereforelegally allowed to trade; however, thetrade and Iceland’s whale hunt havebeen strongly condemned as unlawful.The number of Icelandic products availablehas increased compared to previousyears. Recent years have seen concertedefforts by Icelandic fin whaling companyHvalur to expand the Japanese marketfor fin whale, with prices set artificiallylow compared to products derived fromJapan’s domestic whale hunts.12Rakuten Ichiba also sells toothed whaleproducts, including Baird’s beakedand pilot whales. These compriseapproximately 10 per cent of the 773products listed. Toothed cetaceanspecies (ie, smaller whales, dolphinsand porpoises) typically have higherlevels of pollutants, including mercuryand persistent organic pollutants (POPs)such as polychlorinated biphenyls(PCBs), which pose a significant healthrisk to consumers.Fourteen of the 773 products reviewed(approximately 1.8 per cent) were notlisted with a species name, contrary tothe requirements of Japan’s labellinglaws. One of them was listed as toothedwhale, a general term usually appliedin Japan to pilot whales and Risso’sdolphins. A further five of the 14unlabelled products were listed as beingpartially or solely derived from Taiji andare therefore almost certainly toothed4

EIACLOCKWISE FROM LEFT:Whale meat products sold onRakuten Ichiba include pilotwhale meat, stewed Baird’sbeaked whale meat and Baird’sbeaked whale steaks.cetacean species as no baleen whalehunts occur in this area.DNA analysis of cetacean products onsale in Japan has demonstrated thatdolphin products are often mislabelledas whale, despite the requirementsince 2001 to label processed seafood(including cetaceans) with the commonspecies name and place of origin.13Despite this, cetacean products onsale in Japan are often wrongly orinadequately labelled, obscuring ormisrepresenting the actual species ororigin.14 In tests carried out by EIAbetween 2001-11, 17.5 per cent of 63products tested displayed the wrongspecies information, with productslabelled as whale often actuallycomprising dolphin or porpoise species.15Fourteen of 773 Rakuten Ichiba whalemeat listings examined in detail by EIAdid not advertise the species’ commonname. Given that several of theseproducts were advertised as ‘whale’from Taiji, it is possible that Japaneseconsumers purchasing products labelledas ‘whale’ from Rakuten Ichiba are infact purchasing dolphin meat.5MERCURY ANALYSIS OF WHALEPRODUCTS PURCHASED FROMRAKUTEN ICHIBAToothed whales such as Baird’s beakedwhales, pilot whales, dolphins andporpoises feed at high trophic levelsand therefore often bioaccumulate highlevels of pollutants in their blubberand other tissue. Cetacean meat andblubber products sold in Japan havebeen recorded with very high levels ofmercury, methylmercury and PCBs.Numerous peer-reviewed scientificpapers have documented pollutant levelsin meat being sold for consumption thatare significantly above the JapaneseGovernment’s safe advisory levels.16One study found that mercury levels inboiled whale liver were 5,000 times theGovernment advisory level of 0.4 partsper million (ppm)17 and that levels inshort-finned pilot whales (which areamong the species sold by RakutenIchiba) were more than 1,000 times theGovernment advisory level. One producttested in these studies was so pollutedthat it could cause acute mercurypoisoning from a single meal.18

EIA purchased nine cetacean productsfrom Rakuten Ichiba in November 2013.Analysis was performed to determinethe concentration of mercury (Hg) byJapan Certification Services, an ISO/IEC17025 accredited laboratory based inKanagawa, Japan.Eight of the nine products exceededJapanese national limits for total mercuryconcentration of 0.4 ppm. One sample ofpilot whale meat sold by Ajisaku had amercury concentration of 9.5ppm, morethan 20 times higher than the Japaneseregulatory limit. The average mercurylevel of the nine products was 4.2 ppm,more than 10 times higher than theregulatory limit.HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATEDWITH THE CONSUMPTION OFCETACEAN MEATIn addition to well-known impacts onchild neurological development andfunction, an increasing number of humanailments including Parkinson’s disease,hypertension and arteriosclerosis of thecarotid artery have been linked withconsumption of mercury-contaminatedwhale meat.19 As a result, in 2008the Chief Medical Officer of the FaroeIslands, where pilot whales have beenhunted for many centuries, recommendedto its regional Government that “from ahuman health perspective pilot whalemeat is no longer used for humanconsumption”.20In stark contrast, the Government ofJapan has taken very few steps toprotect consumers from high pollutantlevels in cetacean products. In 2003,a seafood health advisory was releasedby the Ministry of Health, Labour andWelfare (MHLW) which warned pregnantwomen to limit their consumption ofBaird’s beaked whale, pilot whale,sperm whale and bottlenose dolphinbecause of the high mercury levels.21The advisory was updated in 2005 toinclude Dall’s porpoises, but remainswholly inadequate to protect consumersfrom high levels of pollution and stillexcludes many dolphin species foundon sale in Japan (such as Risso’sdolphin) which commonly exhibit highpollution levels.22In 2003, the Joint FAO/WHO expertcommittee on food additives (JECFA)revised its advice on the provisionaltolerable weekly intake of mercuryto less than half its former level.23Ten years on, the Government ofJapan has still failed to update itsadvice in light of this.TABLE 1. Results of chemical analysis of whale product samples purchased from Rakuten IchibaProductSpecies labelledPrice(yen)Hg concentration(ppm)Web linkEIA-001Whale meatPilot 3/EIA-002aWhale meatPilot 0482/EIA-003Stewed whale meatBaird's beaked -17/EIA-004Whale jerkyBaird's beaked 8/EIA-005Fried whale meatBaird's beaked 28/EIA-006Stewed whale meatBaird's beaked /10000026/EIA-007Whale steaksBaird's beaked na/10000102/EIA-008Whale steaksBaird's beaked ra-006/EIA-019Whale meat curryPilot ira-013/Sample no.Concentrations marked in red exceed the Government advisory limit for safe seafood of 0.4 ppm.6

EIA7RAKUTEN’S ELEPHANT IVORY SALESIn February 2014, searches for ‘ivory’(象牙) revealed that Rakuten Ichibacarried more than 28,000 ads offeringelephant ivory products.24 With so manyivory products advertised for sale,more than any other internet provideranalysed by EIA, Rakuten Ichiba playsa significant role in supplying theJapanese demand for elephant ivory.More than 95 per cent of the ivoryproducts for sale were hankos. Thesename seals come in various widthswith different descriptions such as‘hand carved’, ‘government certified’and ‘premium’. The lower priced hankosrange from US 36 ( 3,800) to US 418( 42,800) and some sets of three hankossell for US 3,126 ( 320,000).Rakuten Ichiba’s categories ‘everydayitems, crafts and stationery’ and‘jewellery’ contain the majority of theactual ivory items posted. Items for saleinclude ‘hanko’, signature or name sealsused by individuals and companies forsigning official documents, and ‘bachi’,a pick for playing shamisen (a Japanesemusical instrument), as well asjewellery, figurines, antiques, religiousfigures, chopsticks, tea ceremony toolsand other products. Most vendors sellmass produced items such as hanko,while others focus on larger, moreexpensive pieces that are less likelyto be mass produced. Prices vary, butone of the most expensive items foundwas a large carved tusk selling forUS 28,186 ( 2,940,000).Rakuten Ichiba also carriesadvertisements for ‘hard’ ivory products,derived from the endangered forestelephants of Central Africa. Ads offer‘extremely rare’ hard ivory hankos forsale, which are priced from US 4,000 toUS 8,000 ( 409,239- 818,480) each.Dozens of other types of hard ivoryproducts are offered, particularly formusical instruments and accessories,including ads for bachi with pricesranging from US 2,345 ( 240,000) toUS 3,175 ( 325,000); a shamisenbridge, or ‘koma’ for US 176 ( 18,060);and an ivory bridge and pins for a guitarfor US 193 ( 19,800). A koto, atraditional stringed instrument withivory parts, was offered for US 9,575( 980,000).

JAPAN’S HUNTING OF WHALES,DOLPHINS & PORPOISESCetacean products on sale in Japanoriginate from several differentcommercial hunts. The largest hunt isthe Government-sponsored specialpermit hunt for ‘scientific research’,which annually is permitted to kill upto 950 whales in the Antarctic (minke,humpback and fin whales) and 500whales in the North Pacific (minke,sperm, Bryde’s and sei whales), includingin coastal areas. The species taken areall protected by the 1986 IWC moratoriumon commercial whaling. Members ofthe IWC Scientific Committee havedescribed the Japanese scientificresearch program as “in reality just afront for the continued exploitation ofwhale stocks while the moratorium oncommercial whaling remains in place”.25Antarctic whales are further protectedby the IWC Southern Ocean Sanctuary,which was adopted in 1994 by 23 votesto one, with only Japan opposing.26Japan’s large whale hunts have beenformally criticised by the IWC oncountless occasions, most recently in a2007 Resolution which called on Japanto indefini

ivory, first to Japan in 1999 and then to Japan and China in 2008. Existing legal domestic markets in countries such as Japan continue to fuel the demand for ivory. Japan’s domestic ivory controls have failed to comply with the requirements of CITES to effectively control the trade in ivory and prevent poached ivory from entering the domestic .

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