David Blecken
Nov 22, 2016

Animal product controversy casts shadow on Rakuten's Barça sponsorship

Prohibiting ivory sales outright would smooth the way for a Japanese retail brand with big ambitions for global growth.

Confiscated ivory tusks are burnt in Kenya (photo: Mwangi Kirubi/Wikimedia Commons)
Confiscated ivory tusks are burnt in Kenya (photo: Mwangi Kirubi/Wikimedia Commons)

Having just become FC Barcelona’s lead global sponsor (alongside Nike) in a US$260 million deal, Japan-based Rakuten is under the spotlight again for allowing the sale of endangered animal products on its platform.

Following the announcement of the deal, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reportedly demanded that Barcelona put pressure on Rakuten to eliminate the sale of ivory products through its marketplace. It also criticised Rakuten for continuing to allow the sale of whale meat despite having ostensibly prohibited it in 2014.

In a statement issued to Campaign Asia-Pacific, Rakuten said it has taken steps to remove the whale meat from its platform. “When we were alerted this weekend to whale meat products found on the site, we took prompt action to notify the relevant merchants and remove these products so these are no longer available as of Monday, November 21,” a spokesperson said via email.

The spokesperson did not comment on the ivory sales. Rakuten’s compliance statement says that measures exist “to ensure merchants adhere to legal requirements that are intended to restrict the sale of ivory and ivory products to those that are sourced in an appropriate and legal manner”.

The sale of whale meat and legally sourced ivory is permitted in Japan. However, any such sales are problematic for a brand wishing to be seen as global and progressive, given the level of international opposition towards them. Yahoo Japan also came under fire in January for continuing to permit ivory sales; in response, it said that it only allows the sale of items produced before a 1989 trade ban.

“We take the monitoring of the platform very seriously to ensure merchants adhere to both Rakuten’s guidelines and, where appropriate, local and international law, as well as to maintain the integrity of transactions for customers and merchants,” Rakuten’s spokesperson said. “We will continue to monitor the effectiveness and compliance of our monitoring programs, and make improvements as needed.”

Rakuten beat out Alibaba to become FC Barcelona’s Main Global Partner and first Global Innovation and Entertainment Partner. Chinese state media erroneously reported last week that Alibaba would be the sponsor.

Campaign Japan

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