Tuesday, October 18, 2016


LOS ANGELES - Virgin Atlantic Airways has made a decision to halt all shipments of shark fins on any of their flights despite international allowances. This decision goes above and beyond industry regulation, and has sparked interest among conservationists and within business sectors.

Virgin Atlantic has a shipment program in place called the “Ethical Carriage of Cargo Policy” which outlines the types of live animals and commodities approved for cargo with a valid CITES (convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora) license. The CITES license permits shipments of shark fins as long as it they are in accordance with predetermined measures of balance and sustainability. Since scientists predict 72 million sharks are killed every year to make shark fin soup (the demand for which has resulted in the near extinction of various shark species while also endangering the health of oceans at large) and 10,000 tonnes of shark fins are being traded through Hong Kong alone, it becomes questionable that every single fin in transport was acquired through verified and sustainable practices. Thus positioning the CITES license regulations in the seemingly week position of attempting to end the exploitation of sharks, but unwilling to motion for a complete end of it.

What sets Virgin Atlantic’s ethical standard above the rest of the industry, is their added policy which states, “Virgin Atlantic Cargo has chosen to refuse a number of commodities outright, such as shark fins, ivory, hunting trophies and fur products.” This outright refusal is noteworthy.

When any large company takes any type of public moral stance, varying degrees of backlash from critics and consumers is expected.  Not to mention the possibility of profit loss.  So why is it worth it for the airline?  And could Virgin Atlantic be paving the way for other airlines to start making decisions that value social responsibility over fiscal policy? The Virgin Atlantic Communications Department provided us with this statement from their cargo team:

“As part of our ethical cargo policy adopted a number of years ago, we do not carry certain cargoes including hunting trophies, endangered species, shark fins and any animals for research purposes. It’s great to see other carriers adopting similar policies and an industry-wide agreement that all airlines support would be a significant step forward in helping to prevent such shipments in the future.”

Wildlife stories that reach a mainstream audience, from shark finning to trophy hunting, continue to raise awareness about a problem that has been swept under the (tiger skin) rug for far too long. However, we can’t be too quick to assume corporations will be jumping at every chance to save the planet. In fact, it is very likely Virgin Atlantic’s policy could be a somewhat unique case spearheaded by the company’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, who has been vocal about his stance against shark finning since 2011. He famously appeared alongside NBA star, Yao Ming, who was born in China (and fittingly, also played basketball nationally for a team called the Shanghai Sharks) in an appeal to the Chinese people to end the demand and consumption of shark fin soup.