There can be no doubt about it: Mr. Jack Ma is an extremely savvy businessman, and he deserves a web celebrity status for having created, and managed, Alibaba. Jack Ma was an English teacher before he started Alibaba on a shoe string in 1999. Now his firm, which employs more than 4,000 people, is going public, and will raise US$1.5 billion in what many call the most successful IPO in the history of the Hong Kong stock market. Reports from Hong Kong indicate that the transaction is going to be a very profitable deal for both Mr. Ma and the new shareholders, some 80% of them corporate investors such as the US web giant Yahoo!, Cisco Systems, and AIG Global Investments. This is all very exciting financial stuff... but - the new Alibaba stockholders and the media should also know this:
Alibaba is not only China's biggest e-commerce firm but also the world's largest online shark fin trader. While environmentalists, ocean lovers and a growing world-wide scuba diving community find this utterly scandalous, Yahoo! top managers don't seem to mind. They already have a US$1 billion stake in Alibaba representing a 40% shareholding, and, as reported, will soon increase their investment in the Chinese internet company by another 8-10%. Activist groups, thousands of petitioning individuals from all over the world and media organizations have approached both Alibaba and Yahoo! to induce them to drop the shark fin trade. However, nothing has convinced these hard-boiled business people that they ought to adopt a responsible corporate attitude toward environmental matters. While the Alibaba executives nonchalantly stated that they do not wish to "take sides" in the ongoing "controversy", Yahoo! sheepishly claimed that they are not in a position to interfere with the business policies of corporations in which they don't have a majority shareholding. The fact of the matter is that both firms do not want to end the highly lucrative trade of shark fins. They blatantly ignore the well-founded conclusion of internationally renowned marine experts that the indiscriminate mass killing of sharks mostly for their fins, well over one hundred million animals per year, is driving many species into extinction with catastrophic consequences for the biodiversity of the world's oceans. The practice of "finning" sharks is also exceedingly cruel - the fins are hacked off live sharks, and then the hapless creatures are dumped back into the sea to endure a slow and painful death. By offering international shark fin dealers a convenient platform to do business Alibaba / Yahoo! are fueling the often illegal finning of sharks and, thus, actively and recklessly contributing to an environmental crime they are very well aware of. Business Week recently ran an article on this, and Captain Paul Watson, CEO of the Sea Shepherd Society, also wrote a passionate letter to Susan Decker, President of Yahoo! The international pressure on Alibaba to stop trading shark fins will increase. Soon, Alibaba's Jack Ma and Ms. Decker of Yahoo! will have to realize that the firm's active involvement in this highly unsavory business, which is partially controlled by ruthless Mafia organizations, will severely damage its reputation, not only in the United States and Europe but wherever they have educated and informed clients. While some might find nothing wrong with killing sharks for a bowl of tasteless soup with no value other than some dubious social prestige for those who consume it, the enlightened citizens of the world will staunchly oppose the criminal extermination of animals that have been around long before God even dreamt of creating Adam and Eve.... Please sign the petition to stop Alibaba's distribution of shark fins. Editor's Note: Wolfgang Leander is a highly experienced diver with a great love and appreciation of the grace, power and beauty of sharks in particular. Click here to view an astonishing 4-page photo essay (PDF) on his diving experiences with the beautiful Tiger shark. And, for good measure, I'll also add a clip below for your viewing pleasure. These creatures deserve respect, not cruelty and exploitation.