Q&A: Why Etsy HQ needs to ban endangered animal products
What do we want Etsy headquarters to do?
As revealed by a few simple searches on the Etsy marketplace for terms such as “pre-ban”, “real leopard”, “real ivory” or “rhino horn”, there are currently several hundred products made with parts of endangered animals listed on the site - the vast majority of them labeled as “vintage”, “pre-ban” or antique.
We’re asking Etsy headquarters to follow the example set by online marketplaces such as Ebay or Amazon and adopt a policy that explicitly prohibits the listing and sale of any product made with parts of endangered animals.
More than 4500 people have signed our petition to Etsy HQ to date.
Why do we think Etsy should not be a venue where parts of endangered animals can be sold and bought?
- The trade in such “vintage” items – particularly in a trend-setting marketplace like Etsy – fuels the demand for new parts of endangered species, which is the reason for the rampant poaching still taking place today. Snow leopards, other big cats, rhinos and elephants are just a few of the species still being hunted for their fur, tusks or horns today.
- Many sellers who offer such items make no mention of any certificates or receipts guaranteeing that the items they are offering for sale are indeed vintage. Without proper documentation, there is no way to assess where an item came from. We’re currently seeking confirmation on whether it’s necessary by law to have such documentation order to sell such an item legally even within a state.
- The listing of such items opens a door to the trade in newly poached products (pelts, tusks etc.), falsely labeled and disguised as “vintage” or “pre-ban”. The Endangered Species Act (ESA)’s ban on selling such items across state or international borders is meant to prevent this from happening – but due to its lack of policy and enforcement, a global website like Etsy can easily be used as a loophole.
Is it legal to list and sell “vintage” products made with parts of endangered animals on Etsy?
Section 1538 (a) (1) (F) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibits the sale or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce of any endangered species.
- We therefore consider it to be illegal to sell any such products via Etsy to a buyer across state lines or international borders.
- We further consider it be illegal to list any such item on Etsy without at the very least restricting them to the state the seller resides in.
- We’re currently seeking confirmation about what kind of documentation is required to sell such an item within the state the seller resides in.
You can view the text of the ESA at: http://www.fws.gov/le/USStatutes/ESA.pdf
The US Fish & Wildlife Services provide a handy fact sheet entitled “ Can I sell it? A Guide to Wildlife and Plant Protection Laws” that explains the application of the law to so-called “antique” or (vintage) products.
What do Etsy’s policies say on this matter?
In their “DOs and DONTs” Etsy headquarters states that sellers are responsible for following all applicable laws. They furthermore list certain types of products that can’t be listed on the site regardless of legal status, because they “just aren’t in the spirit of Etsy”. This list includes items such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography and “live animals and illegal animal products” – but there is no explicit mention of products made with parts of endangered species.
According to the About Us section on etsy.com, the site considers itself to be a “mindful, transparent and humane business”. Yet, as long as they are legal, Etsy headquarters apparently considers products made with parts of endangered animals to be “in the spirit of Etsy”.
Etsy already bans ILLEGAL products. Why do we think they need to go further and cease to be a venue for the sale of products made with parts of endangered animals, regardless of legal status?
- Confusion: As evidenced by the hundreds of products made with endangered animals that we consider to be listed on Etsy illegally under the Endangered Species Act – and by several discussions in Etsy’s forums and other channels - many Etsy sellers are unaware of the legal status of so-called “vintage” products made with parts of endangered animals.
- Etsy community is at risk: As we don’t assume they are knowingly breaking the law, a large number of those sellers evidently consider the unrestricted listing of their “antique” products made of endangered animals on Etsy to be legal. As Etsy HQ’s policies only ban “illegal animal products”, without specifying what that entails, many of these sellers assume their listings to be unproblematic; putting themselves – and potential unsuspecting buyers – at risk.
- Lack of enforcement: According to existing Etsy HQ’s policy, users are supposed to flag illegal listings in order for them to be taken down. We have flagged a large number of items we perceive to be listed illegally over the last week, but Etsy HQ has yet to remove any of these listings. This leads us to believe that Etsy HQ is unaware of the legal situation or unwilling to act upon it.
- Prevention: Most Etsy sellers refer to the marketplace’s policy when in doubt about listing an item. We’re convinced that the vast majority of this community would not knowingly violate these policies, so if products made with parts of endangered animals items were explicitly banned, there would be significantly fewer such listings in the future. However, if the policies remain as vague as they are, more such items will continue to be listed, many of them illegally.
What response have we received from Etsy headquarters?
Responding to emails from the Snow Leopard Trust and others alerting them to this issue, Etsy headquarters has so far politely refused to take any action and has referred us only to their existing policy, which they deem sufficient.