In the recent past many international conservation institutions, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), have addressed the relationship between their work and poverty. The empirical evidence suggests that while it is not the case that large numbers of the global poor are engaged in trading CITES-listed species, in particular cases the trade in such species may be important to the livelihoods of the poor at the local level. The approach of CITES to poverty issues has evolved over time. Prompted in part by their experience of the trade in Harpagophytum spp. the Parties to CITES, at the last two meetings of the Conference of the Parties, adopted decisions that accepted an obligation to take into account the impacts of CITES listings on the livelihoods of the poor and initiated a process to assist countries that wish to do this. These decisions, while respecting the primary focus of the CITES Convention on conservation, have some affinities with the ‘Do no harm’ approach to the livelihoods of the poor. The process will produce guidelines and rapid assessment tools. If these guidelines and tools are to be effective they will need to take account of the context-specific nature of solutions in this area. The CITES case provides lessons for other international conservation institutions whose activities affect the livelihoods of the poor at the local level.