Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Alibaba.com-Sharks Fin Round Two

When we had heard that Alibaba.com was going to remove sharks fin from it's web portals naturally we were a bit sceptical that in fact this lucrative trading market would be removed voluntarily.

On January 1st, 2009 were were pleasantly surprised to discover all overt sales of sharks fin had been removed from Alibaba.com Many in the shark conservation world hailed this as a great victory and presented Alibaba.com with kudos both online and in the news. Overt sharks fin had been removed from one of the largest web trading portals on the planet.

Our policy has been to verify results. Shark conservation projects should never accept half measures and what we subsequently discovered at Alibaba.com was not good news at all.

On January 2, we were able to source close to 80,000lbs of sharks fin by just requesting it from the sellers of shark products via their site. A loophole. We followed up this discovery with a post about what might be done to mitigate these sales on Alibaba.com. A Red List would inform and educate both sellers and buyers of sharks fin and other banned products at Alibaba.com.

These suggestions were modeled from the kind of safeguards you find at industrial chemical sales portals, the software for these safeguards exists and the implementation of these safeguards a relatively simple matter.

This week we went back to Alibaba.com posing as a buyer once again in search of sharks fin and this time asking for 4000kilos a week or 8, 800lbs. The results were promising.

Of 10 sellers of dried shark, and whole shark products only two answered our request, both said they could source as much sharks fin as we requested. This represents a big drop in the numbers of positive answers to buyers interested in sharks fin via Alibaba.com.

Here is one of the results:

Re:Inquiry about Dried Salted Shark Meat
From: Mr Hxxx Cxxx
Date: Fri, Jan 16 2009 09:26:08 (GMT)
Dear Sirs,

We have those stock . can you come chose and pay cash ?
if interested, please contact us thru bellow email :


thank you,
Hxxx Cxxx

Message IP Address:125.xxx.x.x
Message Origin:Indonesia


Sarah and Stephan said...

Looks like they are trying over there, well reported guys!

Mandy Easton said...

Looks like the huge amount of effort is paying off, whew, I can stop writing petitions!

Sharky said...

Hey man, this is fine blog-work. You should post their names though...these guys deserve FULL EXPOSURE.

bwd said...

I posted the following to the Shark Group list some days ago, yet this silliness is perpetuated. I was the negotiator that secured the result, and I have taken the trouble to do some checking. Some facts:

Alibaba do not trade in anything. They make *no* money from the transactions that occur through their website as such; they make money from subscription and other services which facilitate trading. Many of those offering shark fin were free listers (who paid nothing, so Alibaba made nothing from the listing).

Taobao is not a "parent" company. Alibaba.com and Taobao.com are both owned (in part) by the Alibaba Group. A portion of Alibaba.com is publicly traded in HK.

Neither the company, nor any subsidiary, has made any statement to the media on this matter.
A posting due to IFAW, and what I have said on this [TSG] list, are (to my knowledge) essentially the sole sources of the information, other than the fact that the postings have been taken down. No promise can be broken if none is made, but the goodwill gesture stands, and considerable effort has been made to implement it.

The original agreement, with me, on behalf of you all, was to remove all postings for buyers or sellers of shark fin.
With the possible exception of a few stragglers that slip through the net, and subsequent posts before they get picked up by the scrutineers, this has been done: fully, rapidly. Stragglers that have been notified have been removed.

The standard posting rules - which are extensive - have been revised:
See 40.2. This had to go through several corporate stages, not least legal checks, before being posted.

Crude filtering runs the risk of barring legal and inoffensive postings, such as shark fin antennae. There is a free-speech issue, and of course the need not to interfere unduly with legitimate business (for obvious reasons). The discussions which started ages ago and have been occurring regularly have resulted in a number of other measures being put in place or extended from existing structures for our, well, sharks' benefit. For example:

There is a list of offending terms which trigger various actions in various places. This list is subject to review and extension if appropriate.

* Search recommendations now prevents the display of offending keywords as suggestions.

* There is automatic removal of sale postings with offending keywords. Repeat offenders are subject to warnings and sanctions.

* Forum postings are monitored daily and keyword-offending posts are taken down.

If other improvements are possible, they will be considered. There are some points already under discussion.

All of this suggest to me that they have taken far more trouble than might be expected, and this is to be applauded all the more. It does show what can be done but it requires patience. It is not as simple as Patric seems to think. As a programmer myself, I know how difficult it is to phrase rules that achieve exactly the desired outcome with no exceptions and no 'collateral damage'. While they are prepared to talk and make the effort, and spending money in the process, I think it out of order and grossly unfair to criticise them for perceived faults without raising them first and ascertaining their attitude and the feasibility of action.

As before, I am not an apologist for Alibaba (I own no shares, for example), and John Spelich knows that I will give him a hard time should the need arise. I cannot see that there is "cheating" anywhere - concrete evidence is required, not supposition. Even so, whilst negotiations continue - and I have no need or desire to post a blow-by-blow here, especially if this jeopardises what is being discussed - I should appreciate it if ill-considered rants, press-releases and blogs were avoided. All it is has done is frustrate and upset many senior people who thought they were trying to help. I know this is a minority issue, but the potential effect is out of all proportion. I hate having to clean up. We came close to losing it guys, so - behave!

Again, let me know if there is a problem anywhere and we will see what can be done. How much more do you want? If it does not work, you can slag me off for failing, but later - OK?

Patric: let me know if you have a problem with any of this, please.

Shark Diver said...


One of the factors that makes shark conservation work is the lack of leadership. This allows many sources to tackle different problems on their own time and in their own way. It's not pretty to look at sometimes but it is effective.

While I and others applaud your work with Alibaba.com please refrain from assuring them (Alibaba.com)on behalf of my company or any others that we will discontinue the online pressure with them.

Last time I checked your name did not appear on any of our corporate documents or blog or operations vessels. I have never made any agreement with you.

In fact we have never met, I do not know what you look like, what you do for a living, or even where you live. HK?

And yet you post online and to eco chat sites with a familiarity towards me and my company "as if" you and I have spoken in depth about your own game plan with Alibaba.com or conversations you have had with top management at that company.

Further offline posts by you admonish myself, and make gross demands of us "as if" you dictate my own personal views towards sharks fin sales online, the global corporatizing of sharks fin and what needs to be done,when it should be done, and who we should be doing it with.

This is not the case. You sir, do not dictate my eco policy. You never have and you never will.

All I care about is the recent sourcing 80,000lbs of sharks fin via Alibaba.com.

Let us review that number again with the reverence it deserves 80-Thousand-Pounds-of-Sharks-Fin.

Fortunately, this week we did another search and posted our findings online-a marked improvement over the start of the year. I was impressed. This shows the kind of leadership I was looking for with Alibaba.com three long years ago.

May I suggest Brian,that you continue to do the good work that you do.

If you have made tacit agreements with others so be it.

We remain 100% independent.This is about as clear as I can make it.

Big Dawg Divers said...

Ummm, sounds like Brian has an issue or two there. I like what you guys are doing, don't stop following up.

What are the next targets?

Anonymous said...

If there's a loophole there's a loophole. Thanks for pointing it out and doubly so for giving it another try to see if they had made changes...looks like they have.

I agree with BDD what's the next task?

Daniel said...

Next stop any of the 20 other online trading sites that are 'baba clones.

It only took three years of 24/7 pressure to get Alibaba.com to move, these next ones should be shorter?

Brian Williams said...

Saw you guys on the Outpost,cool follow up. I will be interested to see what they have to sell in 10 months from now.