Congress Demands SEC Investigate Allegations of Wildlife Trafficking on Facebook

Washington, D.C. May 15, 2018. Yesterday, senior members of the House Committee on Natural Resources issued a strong letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) demanding an investigation into the illegal wildlife trafficking on Facebook.  The letter referenced an anonymous Dodd-Frank Act whistleblower complaint filed with the SEC in August 2017 by the whistleblower rights law firm Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto (KKC).  According to the letter signed by Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Ranking Member, and Rep. Jared Huffman, Vice-Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee, “Facebook’s lack of disclosure of the illegal activity facilitated by its site and its failure to take adequate steps to address that activity are both violations of SEC rules.”

The Congressional letter based its request for an SEC investigation on allegations that Facebook is being used by traffickers to promote the sale of “illegal products such as elephant ivory, rhino hour, bear claws, tiger skins and reptiles,” facilitating the worldwide extinction crisis. “Bengal tigers are a critically endangered species with only 2,500 still living in the wild, and black rhino are a species heavily targeted by poachers with little more than 5,000 still roaming Africa,” the Congress Members pointed out.

The Congressional demand comes as law enforcement agencies around the world try to crack down on the wildlife traffickers using Facebook for their criminal enterprises.  For example, a May 10, 2018 raid in Cambodia resulted in the arrest of “alleged wildlife traffickers who were selling parts of endangered species on Facebook.” The raid “found a staggering amount of native and imported wildlife products including leopard and sun bear pelts, elephant ivory, tiger parts, and Asiatic black bear claws.

When filing its case with the SEC, KKC received assistance from NGO’s working to combat wildlife trafficking.  “My NGO analyzed thousands of Facebook posts advertising endangered wildlife products, especially ivory,” said Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime, commonly called CINTOC.   “The scale is immense. We have concluded that Facebook is literally facilitating the extinction of the elephant species.”

Stephen M. Kohn, the attorney for the anonymous whistleblower(s) who filed the complaint against Facebook, said “Facebook must be held accountable under U.S. Securities laws. Publicly- traded companies cannot profit from illegal activities, and it is intolerable that a corporation with the wealth and international reach of Facebook can play a major role in the ongoing extinction crisis, which has already claimed the last male Northern White Rhino, by selling products from animals on the critically endangered species list.”

KKC worked closely with the SEC to create its effective whistleblower program by providing detailed reports and proposals which were used to create rules that are essential to protecting the rights of Dodd-Frank whistleblowers as intended by Congress. The SEC adopted the key recommendations for enhancing its Whistleblower Reward Program advocated by KKC partners.

Kohn is the author of the award-winning Environmental Law Review article, “Monetary Rewards for Wildlife Whistleblowers: A Game-Changer in Wildlife Trafficking Detection and Deterrence.” He can be contacted at: