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Launch of eBay's Green Marketplace Prompts Renewed Call for Ban on Online Ivory Sales

EBay's launch of its marketplace has prompted the International Fund for Animal Welfare to renew its call for the e-commerce giant to bar sales of ivory products on its main site.

EBay's, which opened for business on September 3, is aimed at aligning consumers' desire to shop with their interests in environmental and social responsibility. EBay says the concept enables people to channel their buying power toward positive change.

Transparency in the supply chain and the impact of manufacturing and sales on the environment and communities are emphasized in the new venture, which offers an array of goods at fixed prices in more than a dozen categories. Ivory products are not among them, but are available for purchase by bid in the broader eBay marketplace in the United States.  

That should stop, said Jeffrey Flocken, the director of the Washington, D.C., office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "We don't condemn them for, we think it's fantastic — we'd like them to also do the right thing in this matter and ban sales of ivory," Flocken told GreenBiz.

The animal welfare group has pursued its concerns about goods made from the tusks of Asian and African elephants, which are endangered species, for several years. In 2007, the organization issued a report contending that the majority of potentially illegal ivory sold online had been available on eBay.

EBay U.S. toughened its policy on the purchase and sale of ivory, which are now the most detailed of its rules regarding sales of animal products on its site.  The policy includes a link to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and advises sellers that by listing an ivory item on eBay, "you are certifying that you legally possess the item and are legally able to sell it in the United States." The company also limited sales and shipping of ivory products marketed on its U.S. site to domestic traffic.

The eBay rules in the U.S. don't go far enough, said Flocken of IFAW, noting that eBay Australia and eBay Germany have banned ivory sales.  His group contends that expecting ivory sellers to police themselves is ineffective. "We see this as an abdication of responsibility," Flocken said. "EBay as a socially conscious leader has a responsibility to address this."

"We do act responsibly," said eBay spokeswoman Nichola Sharpe. "We really do feel we do everything possible to make sure that nothing illegal is sold on the site."

In addition to its policies, eBay maintains filters that kick in before items appear on the site and the company encourages people to report possible violations of its rules, Sharpe said. She also said eBay has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and with groups such as IFAW and the World Wildlife Fund to help shape its standards. Rules governing sales of items such as ivory are the topics of ongoing discussions, she added.

"We try to do what's best for our community, we do want to do the right thing," said Sharpe, who noted that in establishing its policies, the company must also take into account the interests and concerns of sellers, buyers and the online marketplace. "It's tricky because we don't have warehouses, so we don't ever see the items."

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