WWF response to recent protests
Following a number of issues raised by protesters during their occupation of WWF-UK's headquarters between 31 August and 3 September 2021, WWF-UK sent the following response on 14 September 2021:
We are writing in response to the issues raised with WWF-UK by protesters who recently occupied our Head Office, the Living Planet Centre in Woking.
We met some of your members on 10 August 2021, to discuss concerns they had about some of WWF’s activities, and committed to continuing that dialogue. That commitment remains.
The group of protesters, which included members of XR Youth Solidarity, then occupied the Living Planet Centre between 31 August and 3 September 2021, and raised a number of issues. We want to respond to those, to make sure you have a full and accurate picture of these issues and of our work.
We believe that you share the same ambitions as we do – to halt and reverse nature loss, tackle the climate crisis and ensure a future where people and nature thrive.
Communities are at the heart of our work and as a global organisation, we continue to strengthen the way we work, helping to ensure human rights of local communities are respected and promoted through our conservation efforts.
We are committed to working together with local communities in this way and to support their ongoing efforts to live sustainably with nature. WWF unequivocally opposes the forced eviction of Indigenous peoples and local communities from their lands, wherever they are in the world.
You can read more about our approach and a description of our Environmental and Social Safeguards Framework here. Importantly, should any individual or community feel they have been negatively affected by any actions of WWF, there are grievance mechanisms in operation within each country (and often in each project). If a genuine complaint cannot be resolved at country level, WWF has appointed an Independent Ombudsperson. The office of the Ombudsperson has complete independence from the executive both from a reporting and budgetary perspective – and reports directly to the President of WWF International with support from the International Board subcommittee.
To address your specific issues:
WWF-UK to publicly speak out against Tanzania’s new multiple land use and resettlement plan in Ngorongoro Conservation Area and publicly denounce the eviction of 80,000 Masai residents.
WWF does not run projects or operations in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). However, WWF recognises the importance and contribution of the NCA in ensuring the ecological integrity and biodiversity connectivity for the entire Northern Tanzania Landscape. We further recognise the significant contributions that Indigenous peoples have made to ensure the conservation of nature and wildlife in the NCA, given the challenges of a mixed land-use area where people and nature co-exist.
WWF-Tanzania has made it clear to stakeholders, including the Government, that it does not support the eviction of local communities from their ancestral areas for any form of conservation initiatives without free, prior and informed consent of those communities. As a network, WWF categorically opposes the involuntary resettlement of Indigenous peoples from the NCA and anywhere else in the world; WWF has a global standard that prohibits involvement in any such activity.
WWF-UK to publicly endorse Gbabandi’s Declaration of Conservation and Human Rights and put pressure on WWF International to respond to it.
WWF-UK has not been involved in any conservation projects in Cameroon. The allegations against WWF in relation to Cameroon were investigated very thoroughly in the Independent Review, which we commissioned and published in full in November 2020. WWF’s detailed response, published alongside the Review, set out a range of measures including consultations with communities in Cameroon who have shared their recommendations directly to help strengthen our ongoing efforts to embed human rights in nature conservation in the country.
WWF-Cameroon has been active in discussions with local communities and the Government, including supporting the implementation of a Memorandum of understanding between Cameroon’s Ministry of Forest and Wildlife (MINFOF) and the Baka association (ASBABUK). As part of this effort, WWF-Cameroon has been working with national Indigenous alliance, Réseau Recherches Actions Concertées Pygmées (RACOPY), on a strengthened grievance mechanism. Initiated by a local civil society organisation (CEFAID) in 2016, the mechanism is a tool for Baka and other Indigenous groups to raise any grievances or complaints related to any violation of their rights and receive support for access to legal systems as required. You can read more about the approach of WWF-Cameroon here and here.
WWF-UK senior staff to speak directly with communities in areas affected by WWF projects.
WWF is a global network, active through local leadership in nearly 100 countries across all continents. We firmly believe that local WWF staff from and working directly alongside these communities in the places they live, who have the deepest level of knowledge and understanding of local issues, are best placed to lead on conversations with local communities and Indigenous peoples in those places. These conversations are core to our work, have been ongoing, and we remain open to talking to concerned communities, especially in areas where we work.
Our offices in Cameroon, Kenya and Tanzania are all led by national staff who are best placed to talk to local communities in areas where WWF works. It would be entirely wrong to undermine their work or that of other national organisations by overriding them from the UK or elsewhere. This would also go against WWF’s global policy, which ensures each office leads implementation of any conservation work in their own country.
The WWF Network is committed to building strong nationally-led offices who directly partner with local communities and NGOs in order to catalyse action at a local level.
WWF-UK to publicly put pressure on WWF-Kenya and KFS to ensure that the rights and leadership of indigenous communities living in Cherangani – Elgeyo Hills are centred into the IMPRRCE plan and publicly speak out against evictions.
WWF-Kenya is actively engaged with the Kenyan authorities on this issue and, in line with WWF’s global position, strictly opposes any forced relocations of indigenous people. WWF has a global standard that prohibits such forced relocations from our work or funding and as a network, we are committed to upholding this framework even in very challenging circumstances.
We firmly believe that local WWF staff from and working directly alongside these communities in the places they live, who have the deepest level of knowledge and understanding of local issues, are best placed to lead on conversations with local communities and Indigenous peoples in those places.
The WWF office in Kenya is run by national staff, who lead on all engagement with local communities and Indigenous peoples. It would be highly inappropriate for WWF-UK to 'pressure' WWF-Kenya on issues relating to local communities in their country.
WWF-Kenya is committed to ensuring that the rights of Indigenous peoples are protected.
The Integrated Master Plan for Rehabilitation and Restoration (IMPRRCE) in the area, developed by the local Ministry of the Environment and Forestry makes explicit reference to these rights including as follows: “These historical land tenure cases in Cherangany-Elgeyo require robust approaches such as free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) involving community participation.” WWF-Kenya is engaging with the Kenyan authorities to insist this is applied.
We welcome respectful dialogue and collaboration on these complex issues, so we can learn from each other and stay focused on our collective ambition which is to restore and sustain our beautiful planet that we all share for people everywhere.
Following a document we received from protest group WTFWWF in January 2022, WWF-UK sent the following response to them on 22 February 2022:
We’ve read the correspondence you sent to many of our staff members on 10 January. We made a point of highlighting it and discussing it with all of our staff so that they were aware of your concerns.
Most of the issues you have raised have been investigated by the Independent Review published in 2020, which found no evidence that any member of WWF staff had directed, participated in or encouraged any alleged human rights abuses, and WWF’s full response can be found here. In 2019, WWF commissioned an independent panel of experts to review how we were responding to reports of human rights abuses by some government rangers in complex and remote landscapes in Central Africa, India, and Nepal. We hope that you have read this in detail, as it gives independent and verified detail on these allegations.
The panel also recognised that WWF was one of the first conservation organisations to embrace human rights principles, that our commitments often set higher standards than the laws and practices of the states in which we work, and that WWF took steps to support communities in the places it reviewed. WWF unequivocally opposes the forced eviction of Indigenous Peoples and local communities from their lands, we do not support forced evictions or activities that result in it and we will oppose it in all of our work.
Regarding your request that WWF-UK facilitates a meeting with you, some of your indigenous community contacts and WWF Kenya, WWF Tanzania and WWF Cameroon to hear concerns, our position remains that our colleagues in Africa will continue to lead dialogues within their respective settings, and they are best placed to decide on how and when to engage with local communities.
We do thank you for flagging to us the issue regarding a poster in Cameroon and allegations around Virunga (the only allegation which hasn’t been addressed previously). We’ve raised these with the relevant offices. The allegations around Virunga don’t relate to any WWF activities or projects, and the poster in Cameroon is outdated and was produced before the Independent Review and our new Environmental and Social Safeguards System (ESSF). A new set of processes is now available at https://cameroon.panda.org/speak_up/ and the WWF Cameroon office will urgently make sure any old versions are taken down.
I hope it’s clear that we always take complaints extremely seriously. We’ve got a robust process in place to ensure these are handled sensitively and appropriately. Our teams around the world value dialogue and collaboration on these complex issues, and will continue to engage with and support indigenous peoples on any concerns.
The following channel for communication is available to ensure that your concerns reach us appropriately: firstname.lastname@example.org