Patrick Hall is a Senior Research Fellow at the think tank Bright Blue.
It’s just over two years to the day since the Conservatives won their stonking majority, yet one of their manifesto commitments remains undelivered: banning imports from trophy hunting.
Currently, trophy hunters can travel to countries that are home to charismatic species such as lions, elephants, giraffes, hippopotamuses and baboons, shoot as many as they please, and return to the UK bringing their sickening souvenirs with them. The effect on wildlife is, unsurprisingly, damaging. Only approximately 20,000 lions are left in the wild today. And that is just one harrowing statistic of many when it comes to species decline.
Having previously cited a lack of time as the reason for delay, the Government has finally announced it will be proposing a law to ban trophy hunters from bringing back the bodies and body parts of charismatic species they’ve killed. George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, expects it to be one of the toughest bans in the world, estimated to prevent the body parts of over 7,000 species from being brought into the UK.
Pressure has been placed on the Government to move more quickly to introduce a ban after John Spellar, the Labour MP, unveiled his own legislation on the issue – the Hunting Trophy Import (Prohibition) Bill.
The introduction of such a ban needn’t wait any longer. From a political perspective, it’s a vote winner; 89 per cent of Conservative voters support a ban on imports from trophy hunting. From a fiscal perspective, it bears no cost to the Treasury.
In fact, this country could go further. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than £15 billion a year, is the world’s fourth most profitable criminal enterprise and is often undertaken or supported by corrupt officials, criminal gangs and even terrorist networks. As some regions of the world become wealthier, this risks increasing the demand for, and therefore the illegal trade in, products from endangered species.
In Bright Blue’s report, Global green giant?, we put forward ambitious new recommendations for government to combat the international illegal wildlife trade.
The US Magnitsky Act 2012 allows the US Government to sanction individuals implicated in gross human rights abuses by freezing their assets and barring them from entry into the country. The UK passed its own version of this through an amendment to existing legislation, named the ‘Magnitsky Clause’. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 includes “gross human rights violation” as a reason for imposing sanctions on someone or an entity. The type of sanction and authority to enact them is at the discretion of an appropriate Minister.
Amendments to existing legislation should be made to enable the UK Government to freeze UK-based assets of foreign citizens implicated in supporting the illegal wildlife trade, wildlife crime, and other forms of gross species and habitat destruction.
Intelligence sharing is another tool for thwarting the illegal wildlife trade. The EU-TWIX scheme is a database among EU member states containing centralised data on seizures and reported offences. Despite Brexit, the UK remains a part of EU-TWIX. The UK should advocate for and help to build a Commonwealth version of the EU-TWIX scheme.
Admittedly, the UK Government has already made several commitments to increasing evidence sharing amongst Commonwealth nations in relation to the illegal wildlife trade, including working directly with local law enforcement agencies in countries where the wildlife crime is prevalent and providing operational support to Intepol’s ‘Project Predator’ – an international enforcement and intelligence sharing initiative to protect tigers in the wild.
However, there is no official framework for sharing intelligence amongst Commonwealth nations. It makes sense for there to be, given how prolific the illegal wildlife trade is in many of those countries, particularly in Africa and Asia.
Currently, the incumbent Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth of Nations is Boris Johnson, our Prime Minister, presenting an opportunity for the UK to take the lead in establishing a Commonwealth illegal wildlife trade intelligence sharing scheme. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, also known as CHOGM, is where collective Commonwealth declarations are made. The 26th CHOGM is yet to take place; it would be reassuring to see the Prime Minister use his final moments as Chair-in-Office to lay the foundation for such a scheme.
There’s a role for the private sector to play in combating the illegal wildlife trade as well. Already, the Wildlife Financial Taskforce exists, which comprises 30 international banks and financial organisations committed to not facilitating or tolerating any financial flows from the illegal wildlife trade.
However, this initiative exists on a voluntary basis. Currently, commercial organisations with an annual turnover greater than £36 million are obliged to prevent slavery in their supply chains through the Modern Slavery Act. A similar statutory duty should be placed on organisations to monitor and prevent financial flows which could reasonably be linked to the illegal wildlife trade.
The Government has spent ample time talking tough on trophy hunting and the illegal wildlife trade. It’s now time to see delivery.