eBay’s Involvement in the Fight against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property

Due to the pandemic, the world has seen an accelerated shift to a digital age. The illicit trafficking of cultural property has not escaped this, and actors trading illicit goods continue to attempt to use the existing networks for their activities.

As one of the major online marketplaces, eBay has been an active leader fighting to combat this phenomenon, in particular by contributing to talks with governments, NGOs, and authorities, and is committed to providing a safe and secure online marketplace, preventing illegal trade while facilitating the legal sale of antiquities.

To find out more about eBay’s heritage protection policy, NETCHER had the pleasure of speaking to Delphine Dauba-Pantanacce, Director, Legal Counsel, Global Regulatory at eBay, leading on the fight against cultural goods trafficking on eBay

Q: Delphine, could you summarise the key elements of eBay’s policy on preventing the trafficking of cultural goods?

A: Yes, eBay’s approach is based on three key pillars. These are:

  1. Education: eBay is governed by policies which dictate what can and can’t be sold on the marketplace.
  2. Enforcement: We also have our own enforcement measures, which include removing listings and taking action on accounts which attempt to participate i illicit trade on a marketplace.
  3. Cooperation: Working together with authorities and NGOs to address the global issue of protecting world cultural heritage.

 This three-pronged strategy is a vital contribution to stopping traffickers using online marketplaces to carry out the illicit trade of cultural goods.

Q: What measures has eBay put in place to raise awareness amongst its users of the risks of buying looted, stolen or illegally exported or imported cultural goods?

A: As eBay is a marketplace which does not sell, own, or control products available on the platform, the integrity of its platform is built on trust between buyers and sellers, meaning that education plays a key role.

eBay’s Artefacts policy is important to educate users about the laws and regulations that apply to the sale of historical and cultural antiquities, and it ensures sellers are clear on the rules around prohibition of the sale of looted or stolen cultural goods.

The policy  includes the link to the Works of Art section of the Interpol website, enabling users to play an active role in the exchange of information about stolen works of art.

They can also check the International Council of Museums’ Red Lists Database that identifies categories of cultural goods most vulnerable to illicit traffic as well as the UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws.

Q: Has eBay taken any enforcement action to prevent the sale of illegal goods on its marketplace?

A: Alongside the education of users, eBay has block filter algorithms in place, which automatically stop items from making it onto site, as well as team members who remove listings reported by users and authorities, NGOs, experts, or law enforcement agencies.

These team members also place sanctions against bad actors, when necessary, which can be in the form of warnings, temporary bans, or permanent suspensions.

Q: eBay is a major player in e-commerce, and therefore in the private sector. What is your relationship with the regulatory authorities and the stakeholders involved in the fight against the trafficking of cultural goods?

A: eBay has a long track record of close cooperation with authorities and NGOs at a global level, working with them to fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods. These include UNESCO, Interpol, EU Commission, US Department of State, among others.

As well as cooperation with authorities, eBay also works closely with archaeological monitoring experts, museums, embassies and national police authorities.

These working relationships are essential, as eBay can benefit from their tremendous expertise and knowledge, then apply it to the enforcement of its policies on the marketplace.

eBay has worked with experts on the issue of illicit trafficking of cultural goods from the Middle East and other areas for a number of years, dating all the way back to the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. In 2015, eBay participated in the Conflict Antiquities Symposium hosted by the MET and the US Department of State to discuss ISIS looting in Iraq and Syria.

As far back as 2008, the sale of cultural goods became permitted only if sellers could provide legitimate documents, and if a seller could not prove legitimacy of the item, it was removed from our marketplace.

This was made possible due to a partnership developed between eBay, the German Association of State Archaeologists, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture, the Swiss Federal Office for Culture and several police authorities, demonstrating the power of collaboration between players to prevent the illicit trafficking of cultural property.

eBay remains committed to the protection of cultural heritage by combatting the illicit trafficking of cultural property. International players in this area, including authorities, NGOs, and corporations such as eBay, must continue to co-operate and share their diverse expertise, helping to facilitate a global and effective approach to the challenge.


[Image: Delphine Dauba-Pantanacce, Director, Legal Counsel, Global Regulatory at eBay]