CITES Secretary General's intervention at the Annual General Meeting and Open Forum of International Fragrance Association (IFRA), Barcelona, Spain

Updated on 12 January 2021

Statement by John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General

Annual General Meeting and Open Forum of International Fragrance Association (IFRA)

‘The Role of Science in a Post Truth, Fake News World’

‘CITES and International Agreements: Opportunities and Challenges for Business’

Majestic Hotel, Barcelona, 6-10 November 2017


Michael Carlos, IFRA Chairman

Martina Bianchini, IFRA President

Fellow panelists

Friends and colleagues

The UN World Wildlife Crime Report dedicates an entire Chapter to ‘Cosmetics and Perfume’. We must work together to ensure that the wild plants used to make beautiful fragrances are legally and sustainably sourced and traded internationally.

John E Scanlon CITES Secretary-General

Thank you very much for the invitation to address your first ever Open Forum!

Today provides us with a wonderful opportunity to explore how we can work together to ensure that the wild plants used to make beautiful fragrances are legally and sustainably sourced and traded internationally. 

I would like to start by talking about what CITES is for those who may not be so familiar with the Convention, and then address some key messages for you. In the course of my presentation, I’ll also touch upon our interaction with the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing[i].

The origins of CITES

The need for a convention to regulate international wildlife trade was first identified in a decision of the IUCN General Assembly held in Nairobi back in 1963. The 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, called for negotiations on a convention to be concluded as soon as possible and the US Government heeded this call by hosting a Plenipotentiary Conference in 1973, which resulted in CITES being adopted on 3 March 1973 - being the same year your Association came into being.

Since 2014, 3 March has been globally celebrated as UN World Wildlife Day and we invite you to join in the celebrations.

CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975 and today it has 183 Parties, namely 182 countries and the European Union. It is a Convention that will go to a vote where there is no consensus, with a 2/3 majority carrying the day, it has a well-used compliance mechanism and enjoys active engagement of many stakeholders. It is today regarded as one of the most dynamic and successful of all international environment-related agreements, and is increasingly recognized as an important tool for achieving sustainability in our oceans and forests and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

CITES and wildlife trade

CITES regulates international trade in CITES-listed wildlife. The Convention regulates commercial and non-commercial international trade in around 36,000 species of animals and plants, of which about 6,000 are animals and 30,000 are plants, including trade in their parts and derivatives.

While the fragrance industry has historically used animals in the making of fragrances, such as the glands of the Musk deer, this practice is not viewed as favourably today and the use of animals appears to have largely come to an end, with synthetic alternatives being used. As such, I will focus my attention on wild plants, which continue to be used to make nature based fragrances, and I may add it is also a far less controversial subject.

CITES is a science based convention but that should not be read as meaning there is no emotion in our meetings. Debates under CITES can be highly charged with many different and competing views being expressed, including on the science. The nature of the various trade-related measures utilized by CITES to regulate international trade depends primarily upon the biological status of the species and our Parties are presented with the best available science. The Conference of the Parties, where decisions are taken, is an autonomous decision making body and is not bound to follow the science, although in the vast majority of cases it does. A distinction is also drawn between commercial and non-commercial trade and, in the case of plants, wild taken or artificially propagated.

CITES obliges States that are Party to the Convention, inter alia, not to trade in listed species other than in accordance with the Convention, to take appropriate measures to enforce the Convention, and to prohibit trade in violation thereof, including measures to penalize such trade. It places obligations right across the supply chain – from source, through transit, to destination. All trade in CITES-listed species is strictly regulated through a process of certificates and permits, which are issued by national CITES Management Authorities.

For certain species, commercial international trade in wild taken specimens is prohibited. These species are included in Appendix I of the Convention and they are categorized as threatened with extinction. This prohibition on commercial international trade includes commercial trade in well known specimens, such as elephant ivory, rhino horn, great apes, marine turtles and tigers, but it also includes some plants, such as certain aloes, cycads, cacti, orchids and rosewood[ii].

CITES does however allow for some non-commercial trade in Appendix-I-listed species, such as between botanical gardens, and commercial trade in artificially propagated Appendix I listed plants. This trade in artificially propagated plants may involve your industry, and the true origin of a species sometimes comes into question[iii].

For other species commercial international trade is allowed but is subject to strict regulation to be sure it is legal, sustainable and traceable. These species are included in Appendix II of the Convention and they are categorized as not necessarily now threatened with extinction but they could become so if trade is not strictly regulated.

This regulated legal trade includes commercial trade in crocodile and python skins, the meat of the queen conch, the wool of the vicuña, certain shark fins and meat, as well as many plants, including agarwood chips and oil used for fragrances, the bulb of the snowdrop used for flowers, candelilla wax used as a component of lip balm and lipsticks, and the bark of the African cherry tree used to make prostate medicine.

Not only agarwood[iv]is used in the fragrance industry but also Brazilian rosewood[v], Holy wood,[vi] sandalwood[vii] or redsanders, as well as orchids and ginseng and many other succulent plant species I suspect you know better than I do! A recent survey conducted by the CITES Secretariat found 365 CITES-listed plants species in trade for used medicinal uses, using the wide definition of the term that includes aromatics[viii].

In fact, CITES Appendix II listed specimens can lawfully be found in products such as building materials, clothes, cosmetics, food, fragrances, furniture, medicines and musical instruments. For this reason we work across multiple industry sectors, including the luxury, musical instruments and pharmaceutical sectors, and we welcome the active involvement of all stakeholders in our meetings, including IFRA.

We also engage with the transport sector, as it transports the specimens, the tourism sector, which benefits from wildlife-based tourism, and the technology sector, as new and emerging technologies will be a game changer in how we combat illegal trade and facilitate legal trade in wildlife.

CITES trade controls can impact local livelihoods in many different ways, and well-regulated trade can generate benefits for both people and wildlife, as we have seen with the legal and sustainable trade in the bark of the African cheery tree, candelilla wax and the snowdrop bulb. There are about one million recorded trade transactions each year, and they are reported to the Secretariat and made publicly available and can all be searched on-line through the CITES Trade Database.

Tackling wildlife trafficking – or illegal wildlife trade

CITES addresses both legal and illegal trade. For domestic or international trade in wildlife to be described as illegal or as ‘wildlife trafficking’, which is often used to refer to illegal trade, it must contravene either domestic or international law (or both).

Over the past decade we have experienced a surge in illegal wildlife trade with transnational organized groups targeting high-value wildlife. Leaving aside most timber and marine products, it is estimated that the annual value of wildlife trafficking is up to USD 20 billion a year ranking it amongst other serious transnational crimes such as the trafficking in narcotics, people and arms.

The first ever UN World Wildlife Crime Report released last year estimates products derived from over 7,000 species of wild animals and plants are being illegally traded, across all regions. It affects products derived from animals and plants that cannot be traded commercially under CITES rules, such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts.

It also affects animals and plants that can be legally traded under CITES strict trade rules, such as agarwood, python skins, corals, and rosewood timber, but where people do not first obtain the necessary permits to certify legality and sustainability, or certificates to certify legal origin. By value CITES-listed rosewood has the largest share of illegally traded wildlife.

You may be surprised to learn that the UN World Wildlife Crime Report dedicates an entire Chapter to ‘Cosmetics and Perfume’. Agarwood is found in chips, oil and powder and it is the most value-intensive wildlife commodity of all 36,000 CITES-listed species. According to this Report, the most highly prized wild-sourced specimens have been decimated by illegal harvesting, including through the laundering of wild-sourced stock as having been grown through artificial propagation.

The criminal groups behind wildlife crime are not just decimating wildlife – they are destroying the wildlife assets that can support sustainable development. In many cases they are also corrupting local officials, recruiting and arming local poachers, injuring and killing rangers and creating instability. They are depriving local communities of the ability to develop their own natural resources, such as for wildlife based tourism or to benefit from legal trade in certain wildlife products that can be sustainably used for food, luxury and medicine, which can lift communities from poverty. Rather this illegal trade is putting whole communities into a poverty spiral.

The high levels of political concern over this devastating illegal trade is reflected in the decisions and resolutions of many bodies inside and outside of the UN, and the concerns of the international community were powerfully reinforced earlier last month when the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted its third resolution on ‘Tackling Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife’. For the first time, this new Resolution specifically references illegal timber harvesting, which, and I quote, “leads to the decimation of rare timber species, in particular of rosewood, agarwood and sandalwood.”

Looking to the future, we envisage greater attention being paid to non-timber plants that are used in cosmetics, fragrance and for medicines, including for traditional medicines. These specimens can often be difficult to identify due to their small size and processed format, which makes it hard for Customs and other authorities to detect. This makes it even more important for industry to be vigilant in sourcing only legally and sustainably acquired specimens.

But how do you stop these criminals? It is not easy – in fact it is really hard. Over the past seven years we have helped generate a global collective effort to tackle both demand and supply.

We are today working right across the entire illegal wildlife chain and with the agencies at international and national levels that are mandated, trained and resourced to deal with transnational crimes, in particular through the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), a partnership of CITES, INTERPOL, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization. Through this Consortium we are deploying the same tools and techniques used to combat other serious transnational crimes in the fight against wildlife crimes.

Yet even with all of the enforcement agencies on board, and the many other measures underway, we will not succeed unless we also have local communities, the not for profit and the private sectors with us as well. And we have with our partners reached out to the technology, tourism, transport industries and many other sectors to join us in this fight. The transport sector has been galvanized by the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) through his United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce. Through this inspired initiative the transport sector has agreed upon a set of commitments to combat illegal wildlife trade, which is set out in the Buckingham Palace Declaration. The tourism sector, through the World Travel and Tourism Sector, is considering taking a similar approach.


Today, we reach out to you to firstly make sure that you know when you are using CITES-listed species – and when you do source specimens derived from CITES-listed species for making fragrances, that you have all of the necessary certificates and permits from the relevant national CITES authorities to ensure legality and sustainability.

As is evident from the UN World Wildlife Crime Report, we are confronting some serious instances of illegally traded plants in this sector.  If you are aware of any bad practice in your industry it is critical that you identify it and help hold the perpetrators to account. This is important for the reputation of the industry, for ensuing an ongoing sustainable supply of raw products, and for the livelihoods of local communities.

The future of wildlife, including wild plants, is intertwined with the benefits that local people can derive from them. If you harvest from the wild and employ local people they benefit economically from your activity and will have an incentive to contribute to the conservation of the species as it provides their livelihoods. If you shift from wild sourced plants to artificial propagation, it is important that local communities who contributed to protecting the wild stock continue to benefit from these natural resources.

So we strongly encourage you to consider artificial propagation in situ rather than ex situ so that local people can still be part of your activity and benefit from the trade, as well as have an incentive to conserve and sustainable use wild stock, which may often carry a premium price.


Colleagues, here lies the link to the Nagoya Protocol. CITES is about the cross border trade in the wild animals or plants and any parts or derivatives, which likely also include the genetic material. When legally traded you can use it in the product, be it the clothing, musical instrument, or perfume. There may however be restrictions on using the raw product for artificial propagation.

The Nagoya Protocol is about accessing and sharing the benefits of the genetic resource. The Protocol was adopted in 2010 and entered into force in 2014. It is just seven years old and is still evolving. There are many issues that remain open, including its interrelationship with Intellectual Property laws, disclosure of origin, and whether the Protocol applies to genetic material acquired prior to its entry into force.

However, its overall objectives are clear. If you seek to access a genetic resource and utilize this resource to develop a new product, then you first must check the national laws of the provider country and negotiate and agree on the terms of access and on how benefits will be equitably shared with the provider country. This will involve a negotiation in accordance with national laws, which laws will also determine if and how others are to be involved in the negotiation.

A broad synergy exists with CITES, in that both agreements seek to ensure legal access to the natural resources of source countries and both recognise the importance of benefits accruing to local communities living amongst wildlife if we are to ensure its long-term survival and sustainable utilization. However, both CITES and Nagoya have a very different history, rules, compliance processes, degrees of certainty, and Parties.

CITES is a mature and well developed Convention. It has well-settled rules and processes that have been developed over the past 40+ years. CITES places clear legal obligations on countries across the entire supply chain with a government-to-government certification process and an inter-governmental compliance process. The Nagoya Protocol places obligations on provider and user countries but relies heavily on private contract law.

Brazil has for many years included a note on its CITES permits that the permit does not extend to the use of biological material to access genetic information.[ix]And we are seeing a direct interaction between CITES and the Nagoya Protocol with the production of synthetic CITES specimens, such as rhino horn, with the Parties to CITES calling for work to be done on the application of the Convention to wildlife products produced from synthetic or cultured DNA[x]. This work is ongoing and will be addressed at our 69th Standing Committee starting at the end of the month.


Colleagues, as Secretary-General of CITES, my primary message is to have you actively engaged in ensuring you are sourcing all of your wildlife and wildlife products in a legal and sustainable manner. Be aware what species are CITES listed and ensure you have the correct CITES certificates or permits from the national CITES authority. Call out the bad industry players and when sourcing wildlife be sure to support the local communities living amongst the wildlife you utilise.

Doing so is good for wildlife and for local people. It is the right thing to do. It also in your own interest both for your reputation and the long term sustainability of the fragrance industry.

Finally, your sign out the front of this room says IFRA “in every sense”. Put simply, it makes sense to protect the wild plants that your industry relies upon.
Thank you.

[i]The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity, also known as the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), is a 2010 supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity

[ii]Dalbergia nigra

[iii]While commercial captive breeding operations for animals are subject to an open registration process managed by the CITES Secretariat (Resol. Conf. 12.10 Rev. CoP15), the same does not apply to the artificial propagation of plants, for which the process is managed by the national CITES Management Authority (Resol.9.19 Rev. CoP15)

[iv]Aquilaria and Gyrinops spp

[v]Aniba rosaeodora

[vi]Bulnesia sarmientoi

[vii]Pterocarpus santalinus

[viii]“medicinal” is used in the broad sense to include similar and often overlapping uses such as aromatics, cosmetics, spices and food additives.” See CITES Listed Medicinal Plant Species. CITES Plants Committee PC23 Inf. 10

[ix]Covering ABS: Addressing the Need for Sectoral, Geographical, Legal, and International Integration in the ABS Regime, IUCN Environmental Law And Policy Paper 67/5 at page 83

[x]See Decisions 17.89 to 17.91 Specimens produced from synthetic or cultured DNA