Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 23, 2007
Can Alibaba.com stand up to pressure better than the Walt Disney Co. and Amazon.com? As I wrote the other day in this BusinessWeek story, activists opposed to the use of shark fins in Chinese soup are going after the Chinese Internet power, having successfully targeted both American companies in the past few years – in Disney’s case for putting shark fin soup on the menu at Hong Kong Disneyland’s hotels, and in Amazon’s case for selling the soup on its site. The U.S. companies pretty quickly backed down. (Here’s a Greenpeace statement praising Amazon for its decision.)
I recently spoke with Patric Douglas, the 36-year-old head of a San Francisco-based diving company who has become one of the leaders in the anti-Alibaba movement. Some excerpts:
Alibaba got onto our radar because of the shark issue. Somebody just came to me and said look at this [expletive] company, they are selling massive shark fins on the Internet. I looked at it and it’s terrible.
Some defenders argue that shark fin soup is a traditional part of Chinese culture.
The more I looked into it, I realized people who are making money on this are shaping this as a cultural issue. [If you’re opposed to shark fin soup] you are a bigot, you are anti-Chinese, stay away. They can have their soup, but the practice of taking a live animal is barbaric….It is a very tough issue when you are dealing with China, trying to suggest that their cultural practices are really damaging the environment.
You say that the problem is getting worse. Why?
Ten year ago, when fish stocks began to plummet, raiders said fill your vessels with shark fins and make a ton of money.
With the exception of ambergris, shark fin is the most expensive seafood item you can buy. It costs $200 to $300 a pound for shark fin. And the price is going up.
What’s been the impact on shark populations?
We’re beginning to lose our sharks. One hundred million sharks are gone. Something evil is going on here. It’s decimating the oceans, they know that. The practice is barbaric but the money is so good that they just don’t care. If these were seals or dolphins, there would be an outcry. Pulling [sharks] out of the ocean and hacking off their fins, so they have no way to guide and go to the bottom of the water - that’s a horrible death.