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Violent conservation: WWF’s failure to prevent, respond to and remedy human rights abuses committed on its watch

17 December 2020

This briefing provides an alternative executive summary of the Report of the Independent Panel of Experts (the Panel) of the Independent Review of allegations raised in the media regarding human rights violations in the context of the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF)’s conservation work (the Report).

The Panel’s executive summary and accompanying press releases from both the Panel and WWF have obscured the scope and nature of the Panel’s findings with respect to WWF’s failure to uphold its human rights commitments. Under the heading ‘What were the findings of the independent review’, WWF has claimed that:

‘The Independent Review found no evidence that WWF staff directed, participated in or encouraged in [sic] human rights abuse of any kind. The Panel recognized WWF was one of the first conservation organizations to embrace human rights principles; that WWF’s commitments often set higher standards than the laws and practices of the states in which we work; and that WWF took many steps to support communities. The Panel also identified shortcomings and called for more rigour in how we implement our policies, listen and respond to communities and advocate for governments to protect human rights.’

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

To counter this mischaracterization of the Report, the alternative executive summary contained in this briefing elucidates and clarifies the Report’s salient findings based on a thorough review of what the Panel actually determined through the course of its independent investigation, namely that:

  • 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 consistently failed to take adequate steps to prevent, respond to and remedy alleged human rights abuses in and around protected areas it supports. In particular, WWF continued to provide funding and material support to 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; and
  • In the protected areas in which WWF supported their creation or proposed creation, it failed to ensure the effective participation of affected indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), and obtain the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of those indigenous peoples in accordance with international human rights norms or its own policies.

Accordingly, the following alternative executive summary provides a counter-narrative to some of the immediate reactions to the Report, which erroneously interpreted the Panel as clearing WWF of wrongdoing. This is based strictly on the findings of the Panel, as detailed in the 160-page Report. This briefing ends with the authors’ analysis of the Panel’s findings and their implications for WWF’s conservation work (as well as that of other large conservation NGOs working in protected areas and the donors that fund them). In so doing, it points to some of the deeper structural reforms necessary to address the flaws in the coercive conservation model that lies at the root of the allegations subject to the Panel’s investigation.

Download (PDF, English)


Lara Domínguez

Colin Luoma