A Shark Activist Targeting Alibaba

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.)

But not Alibaba. The Chinese Internet company received a $1 billion investment from Yahoo in 2005 and is getting ready for an IPO. (See this story from BusinessWeek for more about the listing plans.) Alibaba’s core business is a B2B website that helps Chinese companies get in touch with importers and exporters in other countries, and activists are angry that many shark-fin merchants take advantage of Alibaba’s services. “Alibaba.com is a global import-export marketplace for buyers and sellers from more than 200 countries and regions,” Alibaba spokeswoman Christina Splinder said in an email response to questions from BusinessWeek. “We serve as a neutral venue for entrepreneurs and businesses to post their products and market their companies online. Each Alibaba.com user takes responsibility for the content they post on our business-to-business marketplace. We give our members the choice of what products and services to list on our websites, so long as they use Alibaba.com in compliance with applicable law and the terms of use and policies of Alibaba.com. With members from over 200 countries and regions we respect our members’ rights to make their own decisions on issues of cultural tradition.”

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:

Why Alibaba?
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.

How much?
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.

Reader Comments

Faye

July 23, 2007 2:55 PM

the practice of eating caw and chicken is less barbaric than eating shark. I am sure. And shark is more cute than caw and chicken too I am also sure.

Wolfgang Leander

July 23, 2007 6:16 PM

For Bruce Einhorn

Hi, Bruce:

Since you quoted me in your article on Alibaba's involvement in the international shark fin trade you might want to read my recent letter to Cristina Spindler and Porter Erisman of Alibaba.com:

http://fleander.blogspot.com/2007/06/bad-press-for-shark-fin-broker.html

Steven

July 24, 2007 1:05 AM

I think the world should not allow to eat fish, beef and pork. I like fish, cow and lovely pigs. US should prohibit hunting too. Those are all live animals.

I hope Patric Douglas and others can joins me. I don't know how these guys are defining the rules for what you can eat and what you cannot for this world.

No joking now, I do hate those people who eat whales.Patric Douglas and others should pay more attention to whale eaters.

Richard Stewart

July 25, 2007 9:41 AM

Greetings to all that have become entwined in this Alibaba.com issue.

In October 2006 Wolfgang Leander and Richard Stewart of the Ocean realm Society discovered the Alibaba.com site

After more than two months of phone and email discussions with Porter and Christina not an inch of progress was made thus - the launch of Ocean Realm's FEAR MAN anit-Alibaba.com ad campaign.

With partners such as Marine Levine and Stan Waterman from the Shark Research Institute and Professor Brian W Darvell of the University of Hong Kong as part of that core movement, not to mention the dozens that rapidly joined the campaign - including Patric Douglas - it is still beyond me as to why those who had little to no initial involvement are still being quoted as the experts and leaders of this initiative.

For current Alibaba.com negotiations I suggest contact one of us with the Ocean Realm Society as we have continued a barrage of communications with both Porter and Christina.

Richard Stewart
Executive Director
Ocean Realm Society

David McGuire

August 2, 2007 5:25 PM

As a shark conservationist and filmmaker, I find the massive online trade of shark products, especially fins particulalry odious. There are no controls, no accountibility and no efforts towards investigating source, species or sustainability. The e world makes these nefarious finners and often illegal trader even more elusive.

Go to my web site, wtach teh trailer, learn more about finning, sign teh petitions and boycott yahoo.

for the sharks

Duncan

November 4, 2007 1:32 PM

This is not a cultural issue. The Chinese are buying shark fins from all over the world. The world's oceans are being depleted of sharks because of a privilege that is being depicted as some kind of "right". Even sharks around protected areas like the Galapagos Islands are being killed to feed the demand.
Besides what is more important: the right of a species to survive, or the "right" to consume a soup? What happens when there are no sharks left? Alibaba's position is immoral, irresponsible and downright stupid.

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