The International Business End of Poaching Elephants for Ivory

I wrote an essay for my Internet Ethics and Policy class at Quinnipiac University a few months ago and thought this would be a great post to bring awareness to the issues of the international business end of ivory and elephant poaching. Please take a look at my thoughts.


International business code of ethics can be a tricky subject. As companies grow and utilize the internet in a global reach to sell products, they have to adhere to laws that affect both the country they reside in and the country they are doing business in. Furthermore something that is lawful in Africa, for example, may not be lawful in America. This is where the company must rely on their business code of ethics. And how far does one go in applying those codes of ethics? If you aren’t aware of a third party vendor using bribes to attain products you need and will ultimately sell does that make you guilty by association?

I think if you aren’t accountable with whom you do business with then the whole ethical and law systems we strive toward will not only fall apart but will ultimately cause chaos. Also, doing business with other companies that employ unethical standards is a great way to set your company up for failure. With the advent of social media, privacy has, for the most part, become an intangible concept. PR is everywhere and all it takes is a few bad representations of your company to put you out of business.

What, When & Where?

In March 2014 the beloved Kenyan 45 year old elephant named Satao, who was considered to be the oldest elephant left in Africa, was killed for his ivory tusks. His head was found mutilated and two holes were left where his tusks had been. Up to 50,000 elephants are poached annually for their tusks. The worldwide population has declined 67 percent in the last four years. All this poaching ensures companies who sell ivory has a full inventory of trinkets to sell to customers all over the world. Because there is a demand for these tusks poachers will continue their work and if there is nothing standing in their way we could see the extinction of elephants in the next 20 years.

Enter Rakuten – the sixth largest e-commerce company, Japan based, that sells ivory and whale meat among other things. Activists around the world are calling for the company to cease and desist as trading/selling ivory is illegal and has endangered elephants all over the world from poachers. If I was an employee of this company I would first be a little confused. The reason why is because the company’s code of ethics does not match the company’s actions. Rakuten’s own online posted code of ethics claim to shun engagement in any illegal or immoral activity and yet here we are selling ivory that has been retrieved illegally and inhumanely. How does a company operate when it works against its own core values? And what kind of employees are you hiring that have no problem with this? There is no way, at this point, for Rakuten to defend itself and say it was not aware the ivory they bought was done so illegally. And even if they were not aware of the laws and how ivory was retrieved that doesn’t absolve them of negligence in researching with whom they would do business with to make a profit. If I was the owner I would have done my research first and foremost because I know how hard it is for companies to recover from bad publicity.


Poachers do the dirty work for companies like Rakuten. They kill for tusks and trade the ivory for profit. Rakuten purchases the ivory, turns them into merchandise and sells it for more profit. And now Rakuten only encourages the poachers by placing ads to increase ivory sales. It is a vicious cycle but it isn’t unending. The problem here is if poachers continue to be successful and unhindered what are they going to do when they wipe out the entire African elephant species?


The reason why this is happening is not only because of supply and demand. It’s because of what is being allowed by companies like Rakuten. If I was the owner of this company I would stop selling these products that harm animals and our ecosystem. If that was my only means to make a profit I would find another way to build revenue. Fortunately for Rakuten, that is not their only means to build revenue. If every company like Rakuten stops demanding ivory then there won’t be a reason to continue hunting tusks when they aren’t going to sell. The initiative needs to begin with the vendors like Rakuten stopping the selling to and trading of ivory. What’s great about this day and age is the ‘instantaneous’ feed of information through social media once a company makes a decision. The speed of change in this era continues to increase – Rakuten needs to make its move now.

So what?

Our planet’s ecosystem is the first to suffer whenever there is an extinction of species. Nearly seeing the extinction of bees a few years ago was a sign our ecosystem was in trouble and one of the side effects from that was higher pollen counts and more severe allergy seasons. We are nearing a critical time where we are trying to save species of animals from companies who would make a profit on their carcasses. We don’t know what will happen if elephants go extinct but we do know the ecosystem will change and I think not for the better.

What’s next?

Activists must continue the fight against poachers and enforcement of those laws to protect animals must be stronger but for right now nothing will change until we stop seeing the demand for ivory from vendors. Again, stopping the demand will stop the need to supply but unfortunately I do not see this happening. Vendors must first step down from selling the ivory. It’s unclear where we will be on this topic in five years. My hopes are that the population of elephants will increase and poachers will decrease.

Final Thought

The question you have to ask yourself is whether companies like Rakuten is ethical at all if they don’t care to know who they are doing business with and how those companies are doing their business?