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WWF scandal (part 5): Pandaleaks – The Dark Side of the WWF (now available in English)

Wilfried Huismann’s exposé of WWF, Schwarzbuch WWF became a best-seller in Germany when it was published in 2012. The book has been updated, renamed as Pandaleaks, and is now available in English.

Huismann accuses WWF of “selling its soul” to polluting corporations and “greenwashing” their operations.

Huismann told the Observer that,

“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.”

Before the book, Huismann produced a documentary, “The Silence of the Pandas”, that was broadcast in 2011 on ARD in Germany.

WWF’s reaction to the documentary was to post a Fact Check page on its website. Huismann responded here. WWF got a series of injunctions preventing the further broadcasting of the documentary.

Censorship WWF style

WWF’s reaction to the book was similar. The Pandaleaks website explains that,

WWF had initially managed to stop its sale for several weeks with a massive campaign of threats to the book trade. A series of lawsuits launched by the WWF also failed to achieve a book ban.

In the English version of the book, Huismann takes the lawsuits in his stride. He travelled to Geneva for a meeting of the World Ethanol & Biofuels Conference in Geneva. Huismann describes a speech by WWF Germany’s manager for “sustainable biomass” at the meeting:

Due to a court settlement I am no longer allowed to refer to this woman by name. Madam “X” took the conference stage and proceeded to push the schmooze button: “We’re different than other conservancy groups – we’re constructive.” Companies that acquired the WWF-approved certificate for “sustainable” biofuel, she said, would be on the safe side and “continue to do brilliant business”. And she had another piece of “good news”: The WWF was in favor of “appropriating” even more lands worldwide than previously for fuel crops – a welcome message that was greeted with friendly applause from the delegates in the hall.

Huismann interviewed WWF’s “Ms. Biomass” after her speech. The interview is toe-curlingly embarrassing to watch. But Huismann is unable to quote from that interview because of a decision of the District Court of Cologne. The interview was conducted for the film “The Silence of the Pandas” and “Ms. Biomass” did not explicitly agree to the interview being published in a book.

A “neat bit of censorship”, as Huismann points out.

The 1001 Club: Running the world

Huismann’s book looks into the 1001 Club, an endowment fund consisting of 1001 rich individuals. Here’s how WWF describes its members:

Members of The 1001: A Nature Trust are philanthropists from over 50 countries. Among them are owners and executive officers of large enterprises, entrepreneurs, scientists and artists to name a few. Whatever their political, personal or business interests, members of The 1001 share the same passion for the environment, and above all the same desire to support the world’s leading conservation organization.

The members of the 1001 Club are secret, but some names have slipped out, including: Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli; BP’s Sir Eric Drake; Shell’s John H. Loudon; Henry Ford II; Mobutu Sese Seko, Dictator of Zaire; and Prince Philip, the first president of WWF in Britian.

Huismann told the Observer that,

“The ‘1001 club’ is still important for the WWF, even though it’s not a secret central committee. I hate conspiracy theories, but I’m convinced that the discreet ‘1001 club’ still influences the strategic decisions of the WWF, because many of its members are important players in global and powerful financial and industrial corporations that rule the planet.”

WWF is still in denial about the revelations in Huismann’s book. A WWF spokesperson responded to the Observer with an ad hominem attack:

“Pandaleaks is the book of a discredited German television documentary that disregarded most of the basic norms and standards of journalism. It is not factual and does not present a representative picture of WWF.”

WWF, according to the spokesperson hasn’t “sold its soul” but seeks to “strategically engage industry”.

However, the spokesperson did acknowledge that WWF is “in the final stages of a several year project upgrading our global transparency and accountability standards for business partnerships.” About time, too.

PHOTO Credit: Photo by Felix J. Fuchs of street art in Amsterdam’s Spuistraat by Bustart.

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  1. This is a weak article and does not stand up to REDD Monitor’s standards. I am not a WWF acolyte but am unimpressed with the propositions of this article:

    1. Someone wrote a hatchet job against a company (WWF) which a neutral judge put the kibosh on because its ‘facts’ were opinion. Nothing interesting there.

    2. WWF engages with industry rather than diametrically opposing it. This is a conundrum we learn about in Environment 101: do nothing, protest or act against (almost always with limited long-term effect so it must be used sparingly), or engage and try to get the best outcomes in a really, really bad situation. Again nothing new and someone else tried to criticize WWF on this; see point 1 above.

    3. WWF has some rich donors whose names they don’t publish. So does The Nature Conservancy but I don’t see much criticism about them. Also, I don’t read why it is irresponsible to accept funds from the Gates foundation for example, despite the fact that his wealth has come from a corporation that has spawned a hugely polluting industry and using the same fallacious logic of this article one could falsely pin toxic landfills, reduced quality of life, and pollution squarely on him. So yes, there are some questionable names on that list (BTW Mobutu’s been dead for almost 20 years) but they are individuals (in the case of the petrol/auto industry) and not the corporations giving the money. So, unless you agree with Mitt Romney that corporations are people, the it is your obligation to distinguish the two.

    Again I am not a blind follower of WWF. In fact, I have closely watched WWF go from an independent conservation organization to one with strong industry links. I have moral problems with that strategy, but I think there needs to be a little more nuanced consideration of they whys of WWF. Is it only for corporate profiteering using the environment as a tool, or does WWF still hold its core values and has decided to hold its nose, engage with industry, and try to exploit that opportunity for the long-term good? Frankly I am still undecided on that (it’s certainly a bit of both) and it would be much more responsible to discuss that rather than present such a biased “report” here.

  2. @Concerned citizen – Thanks for this. I’ll look at your points in turn:

    1. When Huismann’s book was published in Germany, WWF’s response could have been to take a close look at its operations, to see whether it is too close to the corporations it is working with. (In the case of the biomass industry, highlighted in the post above, this seems to be clearly the case.) Back in 2011-2012 when the documentary was broadcast and the book came out, WWF could have welcomed an open debate about the issues raised.

    Instead WWF did everything it could to stifle the book, including campaigning to keep the book out of bookshops and a series of legal cases. None of this stopped the book coming out in English.

    2. Yes, there are various options available in environmental campaigns. But WWF isn’t campaigning. It’s greenwashing the companies it works with. That’s the point.

    3. I think it’s important that think tanks, NGOs, journalists, lobbyists and so on disclose their funding. (REDD-Monitor’s funding sources are listed here. George Monbiot goes as far as making public how much he earns, and how much money he has in his bank account. He explains why this is important here, here, here, and here.)

    I agree with you that the criticisms of WWF’s secret funding also apply to The Nature Conservancy.

    I agree with you that corporations are not people. And I know that Mobutu died in 1997. Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier in the same year.

    I disagree that it’s acceptable to take money from anyone regardless of how they earned their money, as long as they are acting as an individual. And I disagree that it’s fine to keep the sources of funding private.

    I recommend you to buy Huismann’s book. And read it.

  3. The more hard-line environmentalist campaigning you see against businesses is useful for one reason: it opens the door for the likes of WWF to engage. There would be no dialogue between eNGOs and businesses without the “suited and booted, pragmatic environmentalists”, i.e. WWF.

    The boardroom is the real coalface of the battle. Emotive storytelling and tiger costumes don’t work at the level where changes are made.

    What’s more interesting is how the likes of Greenpeace are emulating WWF’s ways more and more, with WWF actually going the other way. Role reversal.

  4. @Robin Shepherd – Thanks for this. One key difference between WWF and Greenpeace is funding: “To maintain absolute independence Greenpeace does not accept money from companies, governments or political parties.”

  5. wwf head of guianas [guyana, suriname & french guiana] patrick williams just quietly quit
    he is the holder of forestry concessions and beneficiary of many other shady deals in guyana thanks to bharrat jagdeo. they two would jet around the world talking about the great low carbon economy and conservation etc
    patrick williams is in a business aliance with a shady chinese company bai shan lin in guyana
    it’s all there in black and white
    these international ngo’s are part of the problem

  6. @mark jacobs – Thanks for this. Patrick Williams is still listed as country manager on WWF’s website. Have you got a link to confirm this news?

    Williams is a director of Sherwood Forrest Inc, which has a 167,000 hectare logging concession in Guyana.

    According to the Global Timber website, another of Sherwood Forrest Inc’s directors, Chu Hong Bo is also a director of Bai Shan Lin. And Chu Hong Bo is “understood to be a relative of Chu Wenze”, the chairman of Bai Shan Lin.

  7. A picture is forming wherein WWF appears to be in bed with several special interest consortiums: Trophy Hunting, Palm Oil and Biomass Production and Tourism catering to the elite.

    WWF Damage control /spin doctor:

    Phil Dickie: Head, Issues Management at WWF International
    Phil Dickie, WWF. Mitigating Bribery and Corruption. Phil Dickie, WWF. Refining IP and Innovation. Dr Eugene Shteyn – Stanford Continuing Educaion Program …

  8. ^ Should have added Wine Production (read “mono-crop”) to above list also – while claiming to support “Biodiversity”.