Alibaba.com removed dozens of listings advertising the sale of animals and parts from endangered species after an animal-rights group flooded the company’s Facebook fan page Wall withvitriolic protests.<
Alibaba.com, the world’s largest B2B e-commerce website, bans listings for thousands of species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). But numerous listings selling banned products–among them vendors promising to deliver tiger skins and oneselling a live baby dolphin–slippedthrough the company’s filtering system, Alibaba.com officials said.
The errors sparked a string of Facebook posts from members of theSea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group of aggressive animal-rights activists best known for their high-seas harassment of Japanese whaling ships.Activists accused Alibaba of trafficking in endangered species.
In a statement posted on Facebook Feb. 16, Alibaba.com apologized for the listings. “We are removing all of these postings now and continue to clean the site for postings that violate CITES and our listing policies,” the company stated. “We are committed to keeping these listings off our site and we are sorry that our processes did not adequately stop these listings from being posted.”
Alibaba.com is an open, self-service online marketplace with millions of participating buyers and sellers. The sheer number of product listings makes the site difficult to monitor even using automated filters to screen out banned items, said a company spokesman. The majority of Alibaba.com members pay nothing to market their products via the site.
Curtailing the trade in endangered species is made more difficult because there’s a ready market. Rare animal partsare ingredients in a number of sought-after Chinese medicines. Alibaba.com specifically bans trade in shark fins, bear bile and dog and cat parts. But, just as the Japanese continue to hunt whales in spite of international condemnation, many Chinese defend their consumption of aphrodisiacs and other potions containing animal parts, saying the practice is deeply rooted in their culture.
Some of the comments posted by Sea Shepherd members on Alibaba.com’s Facebook Wall are threatening and laced with obscenities. Asked why Alibaba.com did not to remove them, the Alibaba.com spokesman said the company did not want to undermine one of the reasons it joined the social networking site:to engagein free and open conversations with customers and the public. The company did activate a Facebook profanity filter for Wall commentsfollowing theactivists’ posts.