House Foreign Affairs Committee Discusses Wildlife Trafficking

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a panel discussion to examine the effects of transnational wildlife trafficking on U.S. security. During the hearing, Members of Congress and panelists discussed methods to combat and report cases of illegal ivory trade and wildlife trafficking. Specifically, panelists brought up efforts by the National Whistleblower Center to expose wildlife crime on social media platforms like Facebook.

Members of Congress were particularly concerned with Facebook’s response to wildlife trafficking on its platform. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) stated, “Facebook has become a major platform for selling illegal wildlife products. Do you think Facebook is taking this problem seriously?”

In response, panelist Gretchen Peters, the Executive Director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime, claimed Facebook’s response to these allegations is slow and limited. In fact, Facebook actually profits from advertisements placed on group pages engaged in wildlife trafficking. She noted, “I think [Facebook] would work a lot faster if the threat of a multimillion dollar fine by the SEC was hanging over their heads.” Peters further suggested that Congress should enact new legislation mandating social media companies address and report wildlife trafficking on their platforms.

Other representatives inquired about efforts between the U.S. government and foreign officials to prevent the illegal ivory trade and wildlife trafficking. Representative Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said, “state actors are complicit in these crimes, [often times] a major obstacle to accomplishing our objectives. How do we get host countries to buy-in [to anti-trafficking and wildlife conservation efforts]?”

To resolve this issue, panelist Dave Stewart, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Vulcan, said that foreign officials need to establish effective reporting systems. Moreover, he asserted that Congress needs to assist foreign officials in their efforts to “[create systems that] use classified and unclassified data … to disrupt the criminal international syndicates that are involved in wildlife trafficking.”

Furthermore, Peters called for more interagency cooperation between U.S. officials, foreign nations, and non-governmental organizations. Peters noted, “the U.S. government needs to engage trusted partners in the NGO and conservation community, some of whom are sitting on literally terabytes of crime data about wildlife trafficking networks. This engagement should be handled privately and quietly. Many organizations fighting wildlife crime in Asia, Africa and Latin America are doing so at great personal risk.”

Through the Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program, the National Whistleblower Center seeks to incentivize whistleblowers to report cases of illegal ivory trade and wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking is a pervasive issue that breeds corruption and leads to habitat destruction. Moreover, the illicit ivory trade is directly contributing to the rapid extinction of several elephant species. It is reported that illegal poaching for ivory caused African forest elephants to decline by 62 percent between 2002 and 2011.

It is vital that Congress monitors Facebook’s response to wildlife trafficking on its platform. Furthermore, it is crucial that Members of Congress encourage interagency cooperation in the international fight against wildlife crime.

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