Q&A: Richline’s Mark Hanna on Industry-Wide Efforts to Protect Wildlife

Laws may already be on the U.S. books to prevent the illegal sale of ivory and rhino horn, among other products made from protected wildlife species, but Richline and a host of other industry groups are teaming up to help give the legislation sharper teeth.

Richline, Ethical Metalsmiths, MJSA, JVC, Fair Trade Jewellery, Rio Grande, FJATA, Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, American Gem Society, and Jewelers of America have collaborated on a new ad campaign to spotlight the work of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, which aims to fight black-market sales of products made from endangered animals to the industry at large.

Ads can be seen in the trade publications JCK, InStore, Nationaljeweler.com, and MJSA, and proponents encourage viewers to share the imagery on their own websites and to spread the word through social media.

Richline’s chief marketing officer, Mark Hanna, tells JCK that his firm’s efforts are part of its ongoing Richline Responsible Initiative—business guidelines adhering to specific environmental, legal, social, and economic criteria—as well as a few other salient points as to why industry should reinforce these efforts now.

JCK: Why is Richline leading the charge for protecting endangered wildlife?

Mark Hanna: Everyone in the industry needs to protect, defend, and advance our industry’s reputation for trustability. We take this very seriously. Richline is currently working on many government/public/private initiatives including conflict minerals, made in USA, FTC jewelry industry guidelines and now, more visibly, wildlife and biodiversity conservation. Wildlife preservation is in the news because of high-profile killings of endangered animals, and the White House is committed to completely eradicating the illegal wildlife trade in the U.S., even though U.S. ivory sales have been illegal since 2003. Our network of contacts in governmental agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and various NGOs provide a heads-up on potential negative publicity, and we collaborate with nearly all the key jewelry industry organizations and spread the word via key trade magazines.

JCK: How can industry spread this message to consumers? 

Hanna: Understand the issue and make a commitment to help the consumer understand it. In February 2014, the White House released the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking to stop the illegal trade of wildlife into the United States. In that strategy, President Obama called for a collaborative effort with foreign governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector in order to reduce supply and demand of illegal wildlife products and materials. The private sector has a responsibility to ensure we are complying with national and international laws relating to wildlife products. All of civil society must band together to stop consumer demand and cut off supply chains and market access for illegal wildlife products. I don’t think any of us want to explain to our grandchildren someday that elephants and rhinos went extinct on our watch, and that something could have been done to save them.

JCK: Is this ad campaign limited to trade outlets, or will it be visible in any consumer media? 

Hanna: This will hopefully be the catalyst for a series of ads and point-of-sale campaigns that move from organization to suppliers to retailers and consumers. Richline will continue to support the creative and collaboration coordination of the effort with the full belief that the industry will take it from there. Richline and a handful of other companies in the industry have already committed to working with the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (USWTA) on a coordinated consumer-demand-reduction campaign. The campaign will amplify our corporate policies to combat wildlife trafficking by using a unified platform and message with a strategic mix of paid, donated, and owned media. The campaign will seek to raise public awareness and spark consumer action, leading to brand loyalty for alliance partners. We are additionally working to create an informational site dubbed Ivoryfreejewelry.com that should debut in the next few weeks.

JCK: How widespread are ivory sales in the U.S.?

Hanna: Because the ivory trade operates within illegal networks, it is difficult to determine the exact numbers coming into the U.S. However, experts have determined that the U.S. is one of the world’s largest consumers of illegal wildlife and wildlife products. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regularly seizes ivory, leading to a 2013 and 2015 ivory crush effort that destroyed 7 tons (combined) of ivory that had been seized over the past 25 years from various locations.   

Elephant poaching is at its highest level in decades and now exceeds the species’ reproductive potential. Elephants are being slaughtered across Africa to meet the demand for ivory faster than they can reproduce. According to Save the Elephants: “100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in just three years, between 2010 and 2012, and there is no indication that the poaching has reduced since then.” Plus, smaller rhino populations in Africa are being decimated at rates of more than 1,000 killings per year. Unfortunately, the U.S. continues to fuel this voracious demand via illegal sales. By reducing the illegal ivory trade in the U.S., we will have a significant impact on global wildlife conservation efforts.

JCK: How can jewelers protect themselves from buying horn products that may have been acquired illegally? Horn jewelry is widely available at many fine jewelry trade shows, and many say the horn is naturally shed.

Hanna: Retailers need to be cautious. It is very difficult to differentiate legally acquired ivory from ivory derived from elephant poaching. And illegal ivory is often (and easily) passed off as legal. Retailers need to ask for documentation that shows the species and age of the specific item. This can include CITES permits or certificates, certified appraisals, documents that detail date and place of manufacture, etc. Jewelers have a responsibility to ensure ivory is not acquired illegally. Asking to see documentation (as described above) is the most effective way to ensure the product is legal. And while it is difficult to tell the difference, companies can train employees to remain vigilant for these types of products and develop policies for flagging and alerting the authorities if something seems suspicious or lacking in required information.

The USWTA will be launching a branded national communications campaign at the end of the year that will highlight the supply side of the issue. 


For more information, log onto JVClegal.com, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Affairs, Endangered Species Act, or the Elephant Ivory Trade Ban under the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Alternatively, promote responsibility on social media by using #EndangeredSpecies, #WildlifeTrafficking, #SupportTheCause, #RichlineResponsible, and including the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance on Twitter at @USWTA.


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