A global leadership opportunity slipping through the Government’s fingers
The best word to describe my feelings having read the UK Government’s answers to the responses they received in a recent consultation on how to implement the Ivory Act 2018 is ‘disappointment’. The world is watching the UK on the emotive topic of ivory trade bans more than it maybe realises. Having been proudly introduced as the toughest domestic ivory ban in the world, like a UK train it is increasingly late and suffering defects. Countries, including EU nations, are in the process of developing similar legislation and there will be lessons to be learned in the implementation; now almost three years overdue.
We estimate that around 20,000 elephants are killed each year for their ivory. This would mean that in the time since the Ivory Act was passed around 60,000 elephants may have lost their lives. This really is a critical time and we can’t afford more delays and any watering down of protections. Some of the lowlights of the Government’s response include:
- Despite it being almost three years since the Act passed through Parliament, the Government has said they “will be implementing an approximate four-month stay between the opening of registrations and certification process, and the ban coming into force”.
It is acknowledged that there needs to be a period of allowing the system to settle in and people to register, but four months is a surprisingly long time considering the amount of time already passed! For a Government that has heralded the Act as ‘world-leading legislation’ it seems to be in no rush to actually get it to do what was promised. Meanwhile, every day that goes by translates to the loss of more elephants.
- The Government seems to be at pains in their response to say they are trying to remove the administrative ‘burden’ of the legislation and not add to ‘bureaucracy’. Again this sounds less like pride in ‘world-leading legislation’ and more like apologising for trying to protect endangered elephants. One such example is in response to questions about people being able to register up to 20 items of ivory on the new system. They state that they “will maintain this approach, as an appropriate and proportionate way to minimise the burden and cost on those wishing to deal in a number of items that are exempt”. Whilst we are not looking to make this new system unruly or penalise people who can legally hold ivory items, the Government does appear to be bending over backwards to appease ivory dealers. Surely the whole point of an ivory ban is to make it difficult to sell items, not easy?
- One of the biggest concerns that we at IFAW raised was that there was little definition of who an “expert” was when being able to determine the veracity of ivory items when registered on the new system. It seems anybody can define themselves as an expert with little validation. To these concerns, the Department for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs (Defra) response is: “It is the responsibility of the owner to assure themselves that the item meets the exemption criteria. The process has been simplified as far as possible to remove unnecessary bureaucracy…”. This section both astounds and infuriates. In order to protect wild elephant populations, by reducing and removing the demand for ivory products, the Government should be trying to implement a robust and enforceable law. Instead, they seem more focused on reducing what they see as ‘red tape’.
To make matters worse, Defra goes further and states that it is up to members of the public to ensure that the expertise they seek out is accurate: “they will need to satisfy themselves that any expert advice on which they have relied upon was provided by someone with sufficient expertise in the type of item concerned”. It appears a bit rich for Defra to say the public should be able to do this given they have been unable to provide any definition of an expert or their validity. Given their strong desire to minimise any ‘burden’ on the public, it seems strange to have suddenly decided that it’s on individual owners to be able to verify the validity of ivory experts, and if they fail to do so it will be a criminal offence. It goes without saying that if someone who currently owns ivory doesn’t know whether it is indeed ivory or the provenance of the item, then they are unlikely to be able to ascertain who is an expert on the topic. Most people will surely visit antique dealers and the significant majority of these dealers shouldn’t be categorised as ‘experts’.
- Under the section regarding information being collated on the registration of ivory items in this new system, the Government has decided to ignore our appeals (and those of similar parties) to make this system as robust as possible. We had suggested that the details of any ‘ivory expert’ be included within the registration, but they have stated instead that “it is for sellers to provide an explanation of how the item meets the exemption criteria and to satisfy themselves that they have provided the necessary evidence. This may include documentary proof of provenance.” Again a preference seems to be for making the Act easier to administer and further from being robust.
This is merely a snapshot of the responses. While we acknowledge that implementing any legislation is tricky, this is a law that is uniformly supported by the electorate and appeasement seems to be for a very small minority of individuals and businesses who retain a vested interest in the continued sale of ivory. All the evidence points to the continued sale of ivory fuelling further slaughter of elephants.
After a delay of almost three years in bringing this legislation into force and now with what appears to be the start of a watered-down set of measures to protect wild elephants, it would be wrong to ignore these concerns. I really hope the UK Government will take time to reflect on these concerns and adjust their approach accordingly. We remain willing to work with them to ensure the Ivory Act truly can claim the title of “world-leading legislation”. It is so easy to make the claim but the proof will always be in the pudding.
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