…aren’t they the good guys?
The WWF is complicit in the abuse and dispossession of indigenous people
Over the last few years there has been an increasing level of exposure around the ongoing human rights abuses and land grabs committed in the name of wildlife conservation by numerous western NGOs, like WWF. Several investigations looking into WWF complicity in such alleged abuses have found significant evidence proving the organization’s role in various forms of violence and abuse towards local and indigenous communities living in and around WWF-supported “protected” areas. (BuzzFeed News Investigation Part 1; BuzzFeed News Investigation Part 2)
Here are some of the key fundings from a yearlong BuzzFeed News investigation carried out in 2019 across six countries — based on more than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of documents, including confidential memos, internal budgets, and emails discussing weapons purchases:
- Villagers have been whipped with belts, attacked with machetes, beaten unconscious with bamboo sticks, sexually assaulted, shot, and murdered by WWF-supported anti-poaching units, according to reports and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
- The charity’s field staff in Asia and Africa have organized anti-poaching missions with notoriously vicious shock troops, and signed off on a proposal to kill trespassers penned by a park director who presided over the killings of dozens of people.
- WWF has provided paramilitary forces with salaries, training, and supplies — including knives, night vision binoculars, riot gear, and batons — and funded raids on villages. In one African country, it embroiled itself in a botched arms deal to buy assault rifles from a brutal army that has paraded the streets with the severed heads of alleged “criminals.”
- The charity has operated like a global spymaster, organizing, financing, and running dangerous and secretive networks of informants motivated by “fear” and “revenge,” including within indigenous communities, to provide park officials with intelligence — all while publicly denying working with informants. – BuzzFeed News
“A BuzzFeed News investigation exposed on Monday how the beloved wildlife charity WWF has for years funded and equipped paramilitary forces that have tortured and killed villagers living near the national parks it supports.”
Buzzfeed News, 5 March 2019
Following the investigation in April 2019 WWF commissioned a panel of global human rights and conservation experts to look into BuzzFeed News recent findings, while dismissing most of the report’s evidence and refusing to answer some detialed questions sent by BuzzFeed News on the matter. The “independent review” was meant to conduct a systemic review of WWF practices and provide recommendations in regards to alleged human rights abuses in and around protected areas supported by WWF in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Nepal and India. The panel’s report highlighted widespread human rights-abuses in WWF supported parks and outlined the negligence of various WWF national offices in failing to do more to prevent abuses.
The report’s key findings:
- WWF had knowledge of alleged human rights abuses in every protected area under review and failed to investigate credible allegations of abuse in half of those protected areas;
- Where WWF conducted internal investigations into allegations of abuse it did so several years after those allegations came to light and only following pressure from the media and/or civil society organizations (CSOs);
- WWF continued to fund, train and equip ecoguards alleged to have committed human rights abuses despite knowledge of those allegations and without operationalizing its own human rights protocols or the safeguards identified to mitigate the human rights risks uncovered by its internal investigations. WWF support to milatirized security forces included the provision of high-tech enforcement equipment, cash, and weapons.
- In those protected areas where WWF had supported their creation or proposed creation, it failed to ensure the effective participation of affected indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), and was directly involved in violating indigenous people’s free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) rights. Violating international human rights and our own policies, WWF failed to meaningfully consult and directly involve IPLCs in the creation and management of human rights commitments;
- The Panel found no agreement in place between WWF and the local authorities responsible for park administration to ensure the upholding of the human rights and FPIC rights of IPLCS. – Minority Rights Group International
Despite the Panel’s findings WWF dismissed the organization’s direct involvement and complicity in reviewed allegations, shifting the responsibility and blame on local authorities and ecoguards. The lack of accountability, leadership and oversight that has emerged from the Panel’s findings in regards to WWF handling of such allegations is directly responsible for the abuses that several individuals and communities have suffered. WWF failure in adequately prevent, respond and remedy to multiple allegations of murder, rape, torture, unlawful arrest and detention, physical beatings, corruption, complicity in poaching, and destruction and theft of personal property committed by WWF-supported ecoguards against indigenous people and local communities IIPLCs) make them directly complicit in such horrendous reality. This violence extends beyond the repetitive attacks on these communities, but it is evident also in the aftermath of violent evictions of IPLCs and the resulting restrictions enforced on their lands, which are causing the degradation of IPLCs livelihoods, including loss of culture and malnutrition.
From the scale and severity of these abuses and violence it is clear that such issues are not episodic incidents but they’re part of a larger systemic problem that has been shaping WWF work around the world for many years. These include the systematic eviction of indigenous people from their customary lands and their exclusion from leadership positions in local conservation projects. Like many conservation agencies, WWF’s approach to conservation focuses primarily on strengthening the operational capacity and resources of local authorities can often fuel tensions between park rangers and indigenous communities, often leading IPLCs to suffer intimidation, violence and abuses.
Recently “private conservation” models emerged that coerce and co-opt locals in East Africa to give them their lands and then rent it out to tourism and safari companies. There are huge frauds in those “contracts”, which are usually illegal and coercive. When WWF take over an area for conservation, they also sell the carbon credits to companies so that they can pollute more. They are making billions in conservation.
When local communities are strong, armed or big they usually collaborate with them. WWF controls, manipulates, threatens and bribes the “consent” processes with locals. Their park in Congo that just lost funding will undergo such a fake process and then resume. It is dangerous for activists on the ground to oppose WWF because it’s a multi-billion industry.
“Some have their homes burnt down in front of them, others see their children, partners, friends and family murdered or maimed with impunity. The fact that abuses are perpetrated by eco-guards, park rangers, poaching patrols, the supposed “good guys”, suggests it might be time to seriously rethink how we do conservation.”
Independent, 17 March 2019
VICTIMS OF WWF:
“The European Union has suspended its funding of a controversial WWF project that aimed to create a protected area in the Congo Basin, after several investigations confirmed a persistent pattern of abuses against the Baka “Pygmies”who live there. The Baka have been subjected to beatings, torture, sexual abuse, wrongful arrests and killings, by rangers funded and supported by WWF.”Survival International, 13 May 2020
WWF “DIRTY” AFFILIATIONS
You would think that a “noble” organization like WWF would have strong ethical values and make sure not to associate with industries that are causing the very same climate and ecological crisis they are committed to fight…NOT QUITE THE CASE!
Since WWF was set up in 1961 by Prince Philip and Prince Bernhart of the Netherlands it became an elitists organizations popuated by some of the richest people in the world, from industrialists and corporate executives, philantropists and ultra-conservative (eco-fascists) environmentalists. The white elite that has shaped WWF work has often done so while having additional interests in policy-making and in the industrial and finaical corporate sector. Even though over the years WWF board members and senior management staff have changed, to this day this funding “elitist club” has some degree of influence on the strategy of the organization.
“WWF International has received millions of dollars from its links with governments and business. Global corporations such as Coca-Cola, Shell, Monsanto, HSBC, Cargill, BP, Alcoa and Marine Harvest have all benefited from the group’s green image only to carry on their businesses as usual” – The Guardian
“One of its first sponsor Its first corporate sponsor was Shell, one of whose presidents also served as president of WWF. The organisation has said recently that it is phasing out donations from fossil fuel companies, but this is not complete and in 2010 it was paid by Shell and to study which forests in the southern hemisphere should be retained and where land could be cleared for industrial use” – The Guardian.
From extractivist industries ravaging the Global South resources, to financial instituions investing billions in fossil fuel, from big-pharma to polluting agribusinesses devastating communities and biodiversity across the world, WWF managed to associate with them all!
“WWF is a willing service provider to the giants of the food and energy sectors, supplying industry with a green, progressive image … On the one hand it protects the forest; on the other it helps corporations lay claim to land not previously in their grasp. WWF helps sell the idea of voluntary resettlement to indigenous peoples,” says Wilfried Huismann, author of Pandaleaks
This is a non-exhaustive overview of WWF affiliations with companies and organizations responsible for various forms of social and ecological degradation.
WWF UK’s board of trustees:
- David Lewis, Chair – Tesco Plc (Retail), Unilever (agribusiness)
- Andy Green – IG Group plc (trading) Confederation of British Industry (lobby group)
- Steve Morris – Portland (PR and lobbying)
WWF Global board of directors:
- Tammy Crown – Charles Schwab (Financial services)
- Robert Litterman – Kepos, Goldman Sachs (Investment banking)
- John Sall – SAS Institute (Business analytics)
- Roger W. Sant – AES Energy (coal-generated electricity)
- Neville Isdell – Coca-Cola (Beverages – plastic polluter nr 1 in the world)
- Brenda Davis – Johnson & Johnson (Pharmaceutical)
- Matthew Harris – Global Infrastructure Partners (Infrastructure investment)
- Urs Hölzle – Google (Digital Services)
- Shelly Lazarus – Ogilvy (Advertising)
- Lawrence Linden – Goldman Sachs (Investment banking), Linden Trust for Conservation (advocacy for market-based climate policy)
- Stephen Luczo – Crosspoint Capital Partners (Private equity)
- Sanjeev Mehra – Goldman Sachs (Investment banking), Periphas Capital (Private equity)
- Iris Mwanza – World BaJeffrey Ubben – AES Energy (coal-generated electricity)
Some of WWF past and present board corporate affiliations:
As more information emerges daily about the direct complicity in, and knowledge of, these atrocities from NGOs specifically WWF – with such breakthroughs as the German government freezing funding over WWF directors knowledge of the human right abuses committed in their Salonga National Park project – we see there is a space for young people to join the calls for radical decolonial change in conservation, and in particular to use direct action to challenge the public perception of WWF. In highlighting rights abuses and the deeper issues with the never-ending colonial conservation projects we will support the ongoing work for land rights and funding redistribution of our advocacy partners.