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17 October 2014

Weapons of mass e-commerce: what can Alibaba do?

On 26th September, the Financial Times ran an article drawing upon research conducted by Project Alpha entitled: “Alibaba: Weapons of Mass Ecommerce”. The article highlighted the use of internet trading platforms in the illicit procurement of materials and components that can be used in WMD programmes. In particular, the article highlighted an interdiction of 7600kg of carbon fibre that was destined for Iran in defiance of UN sanctions.

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Internet trading platforms help to facilitate legitimate business. However, they can also be used for nefarious purposes, including WMD proliferation. This leads to the question of what such internet trading platforms can do to prevent involvement in proliferation.

As an initial list, Internet trading platforms should:

  1. Screen sellers against lists of designated entities provided by appropriate authorities, including the UN. Such entity-screening has become common place across the business community, with banks, insurers, shipping firms and even manufacturers and exporters employing such practices.
  2. Develop a materiel screening list based upon key brand and material names controlled by the international export control regimes and UN sanctions, then apply it to all items listed for sale (for example, aluminium 7075, and maraging steel), requiring that:
    1. Items prohibited for sale by UN sanctions are not advertised for export to prohibited destinations
    2. Sellers listing such items will explicitly confirm that appropriate export licences will be sought prior to the item being listed (this acting to “inform” the user of the control status of their goods, adding an additional layer of warning to that which should be provided by national authorities.
  3. Incorporate appropriate language into the site’s terms and conditions to ensure that export compliance measures are met.

Project Alpha stands ready to work with internet trading platforms in refining these guidelines and to develop appropriate international standards for compliance.