TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has banned the sales of ivory products on its site, the company said Friday (July 7) in a move hailed by conservation activists as a boost to international efforts to stem smuggling.
Rakuten had been accused for years of providing the world's largest online marketplace for ivory, which could fuel smuggling through poor law enforcement.
A 1989 ban prohibits international ivory trading.
The bulk of legal ivory in Japan has to come from registered stockpiles or have been purchased before the ban came into force.
But some traders in the country have been suspected of dodging rules.
"In response to growing international concern about the sale of ivory and other protected products, Rakuten changed its guidelines to reclassify ivory and sea turtle products as prohibited items on the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace, effective July 1," the company said in a comment emailed to AFP.
"We expect it will take 1-2 months for all listings of these prohibited products to be removed."
Currently there are thousands of ivory items offered on the Rakuten site, many of which are carved name seals traditionally used to sign off on official documents.
Animal rights and conservation activists hailed Rakuten's decision.
It will prove "a major boost" to international efforts to end the problem, said Humane Society International.
"We urge other e-retailers such as Yahoo Japan to follow Rakuten's step and call on the Japanese government to shut down its domestic ivory market," Iris Ho, wildlife programme manager of the group, said in a statement.
A Yahoo Japan spokesman told AFP that it does not have plans to ban ivory products at the moment, saying all trade on its site is being done legally.
The sale of ivory is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with elephant tusks and other body parts coveted in Asia and the Middle East for ornaments and use in traditional medicine.
In 2015, the conservation group Environmental Investigation Agency said its undercover probe found traders in Japan were willing to dodge rules on ivory sales to move it across borders, including to major market China where elephant tusks are highly prized.