By Chris Lang
Earlier this week, the US House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing titled, “Protecting Human Rights in International Conservation”. The hearing repeatedly exposed WWF’s failure to take responsibility for its role in human rights abuses.
Survival International has put out a punchy summary of the hearing: “WWF accused of deceit, cover-ups and dishonesty in US Congressional Committee hearing”. Survival International’s Fiore Longo described the hearing as, “the conservation industry’s equivalent of the Abu Ghraib scandal – a moment from which it will never recover.”
The two-hour-long hearing is available in full here:
The following are REDD-Monitor’s (somewhat lengthy) notes of the hearing. This is an extremely important hearing on a topic that has featured regularly on REDD-Monitor over the years.
Jared Huffman, U.S. Representative for California’s 2nd congressional district, chaired the hearing. He introduced it as focussing on “human rights and Indigenous rights in conservation projects around the world funded in part by the United States government”.
In 2019, Buzzfeed News published a series of articles documenting human rights abuses in protected areas managed or co-managed by WWF.
“These reports are horrifying,” Huffman said. “They include gross violations of human rights by park rangers tasked with protecting the park and its wildlife. Murder, gruesome torture, dozens of reports of rape, burning a village, killing men, women and children, conducting night raids, and terrifying local community members. When I saw these articles, I immediately asked the Comittee to start an investigation.”
A bipartisan investigation was launched into WWF’s operations and into the Department of Interior’s administration and oversight of international conservation funding.
Huffman commented that,
To be perfectly blunt, I and others on this Committee, have been extremely frustrated with how WWF handled this situation. WWF knew about many of these allegations and in fact its internal investigations confirmed many of the reports. To give you fair warning, these reported incidents are graphic and jarring but I feel it’s necessary to properly illustrate the horror that WWF knew was occuring. So, we’re going to provide some detail.
In one report, park rangers in Salonga National Park whipped and raped four women carrying fish by a river. Two of the women were pregnant, one later had a miscarriage.
In another case a 52-year-old woman said she was arbitrarily detained and raped for two consecutive days, and her husband had to pay a fine to secure her release.
Another victim alleged that he and several other men were detained while fishing and were tortured by rangers, beating them, tying their penises with fishing line, hanging them by the branch of a tree.
In other cases victims were tortured and killed by rangers through beating and stabbing. So these were not isolated incidents.
WWF’s review found 21 accusations of murder in this one park alone. Most park rangers who perpetrated these acts were never brought to justice.
From the beginning, WWF has focussed on eleborate excuses to distance itself from the allegations pointing to the fact that they don’t employ the park rangers. They are units of the government in the country in which they are operating, and that the political situations and corruption in these countries just makes things difficult.
In one meeting WWF actually mentioned that they would stop allowing park rangers to drive around in WWF labelled trucks, because it confused the locals. As if that would fix the problem.
As if the problem was just bad PR for WWF.
WWF and other big name non-profits bring large amounts of money into countries where they work. That can translate into political influence, if they choose to use it. If organisations like WWF want to work in these places they must be fully present, active, and most of all accountable.
These allegations have also highlighted the continued impacts of colonialism in conservation, the old way of doing conservation, Westerners coming into a country, setting up a national park with strict borders and ridding the area of its inhabitants is still causing conflict today. If Indigenous and local community members no longer have access to their lands and the resources they provide, there can be conflicts between these local communities and the people protecting the park.
“We have so many outstanding questions,” Huffman said. “Can we trust WWF to fully deliver on their human rights standards across their entire organisation? Are they improving their reporting mechanisms, transparency, and accountability. Moving forward, what are they doing to invest in communities and effectively wield their political power in challenging places? And how can other organisations learn from all of this?”
Congressman Cliff Bentz said that, “The World Wildlife Fund is not taking responsibility and some of the phrases I’ve seen in their materials are embarrassing. And I hope today that they step up and actually admit that they are at fault.”
WWF’s President and CEO, Carter Roberts declined to testify at the hearing, citing commitments in the lead up to COP26, the UN climate meeting in Glasgow. Huffman pointed out that others have managed to take part in the hearing despite the same obligation.
The hearing heard testimony from Ginette Hemley, Senior Vice President, Wildlife Conservation, at WWF US. She told the hearing that she’s worked for more than 30 years on global conservation, “developing and directing programmes to conserve threatened species and habitats, working with local communities, NGOs, the corporate sector, and government”.
Hemley’s testimony is available here. She mentioned human rights abuses, but failed to acknowledge WWF’s role in these human rights abuses. For example, she said that,
WWF’s global network of organisations works in [inaudible] countries, including in areas facing extreme poverty, violent conflict, corruption, and weak governance all forces which can lead to violations of human rights.
She told the hearing that “despite often challenging circumstances,” WWF works to support Indigenous Peoples and local communities, “to help them secure their health and well-being and improve their livelihoods while protecting the nature they depend on.”
It was almost as if Hemley had inadvertently found herself in the wrong hearing. “WWF condemns human rights abuses wherever they occur,” she said. Instead of addressing the issue of protecting human rights in international conservation and WWF’s role in human rights abuses, Hemley said,
Of particular relevance to this committee are efforts to prevent the illegal trade in wildlife and other natural resources. This ruthless business generates billions of dollars for transnational criminal networks that wipe out endangered species, destroy forests, and victimise Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
At the forefront of efforts to prevent these crimes are government park rangers.
She noted that park rangers work for little money and that the job is extremely dangerous. “It is also true,” she acknowledged, “there have been instances of government park rangers committing human rights abuses. This is intolerable.”
When WWF became aware of complaints of human rights abuses, “in the past”, Hemley said, “we took action, including setting up community complaint mechanisms, and providing human rights training to rangers in countries such as Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
She talked about a WWF-commissioned review that was published in November 2020. “The panel found no evidence that WWF staff were involved in the alleged abuses and had no direct management responsibilities for the government rangers implicated,” she said.
She spoke about WWF’s ombudsperson who can “cut through red tape and engage with communities”. She spoke about core principles such as involving “Indigenous Peoples and local communities as core stakeholders and leaders throughout projects”. And she talked about how “Governments must uphold their duty to protect human rights and be held accountable when they do not.”
After more than five minutes of typical WWF waffle, Huffman stopped her.
In 2019 and 2020, John Knox, Professor of International Law at Wake Forest University and former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, was part of the panel of experts that produced the WWF-commissioned review of WWF’s operations the organisation’s role in human rights abuses. He spoke at the hearing in his individual capacity:
WWF’s statement to this sub-committee takes quotations from the panel report out of context and thereby gives a false impression of the panel’s findings. It is frankly shocking to hear WWF portray the report as if it largely exonerated WWF.
In fact, the panel found that WWF knew, often for many years, about alleged human rights abuses in the parks and protected areas it supports in each of these countries. WWF nevertheless continued to provide financial and material support.
And, most important, WWF often failed to take effective steps to prevent or respond to the abuses.
Knox’s written testimony (available here) describes the panel’s report in detail. In his testimony to the hearing Knox gave the example of the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
WWF has co-managed Salonga National Park in the DRC since 2015. WWF appoints the park director and it pays the park rangers. Salonga is an example of fortress conservation. When the park was created the government expelled the communities who used to live there. They now live around the outskirts of the park and it’s illegal for them to return to their ancestral homes.
In 2016, a WWF staff member reported that Salonga park rangers were regularly accused of abuses against the local communities. The WWF country director and park director decided not to investigate because they wanted to avoid conflicts with the government.
Only after NGOs made public allegations of abuse in the park did WWF commission an independent investigation which finally took place in 2019 nearly three years after the staff member raised the alarm.
The investigators went to only a few of the hundreds of villages around the park but they found multiple credible allegations of murder rape and torture. In fact, they concluded that rangers used torture and other cruel and degrading treatment as a regular part of their operations.
WWF has never published this report.
WWF continues to provide financial and material support to the park.
The surrounding communities still don’t have access to the park, and there’s no reason to believe that the abuses have magically stopped.
Unfortunately, this pattern is typical. WWF often fails to anticipate or respond to allegations of human rights abuses, until the allegations become public and then it characterises its responses as far more effective than they actually are.
Indeed, WWF’s statement to this sub-committee shows that WWF’s leadership is still in a state of denial about its own role in fortress conservation and human rights abuses.
WWF is not alone. Many conservation organisations are very good at expressing support for Indigenous Peoples but have fallen short in respecting their human rights in practice.
I believe that organisations like WWF will not change their behaviour until the United States and other donor governments force them to do so, by withholding grants until they make the necessary changes. That means three things in particular:
First, WWF needs to apologise for its involvement in past human rights abuses, take responsibility for its failures and be open and honest going forward. A good starting point would be for WWF to commit here, today, to publish all of its internal reports on human rights abuses. It should never again be the case that the US government finds out about these abuses in parks that it supports only after they are reported in the press.
Second, there should be clear red lines. Parks should not receive support unless they have demonstrated respect for Indigenous rights, effective training and oversight for park rangers, and access to complaint mechanisms for local communities.
Finally, to receive funding for any purpose, WWF and other conservation organisations should demonstrate that they have expertise on Indigenous Peoples and human rights complaints at every level of the organisation including at the top. It is highly symbolic, I think, that WWF rejected the panels recommendation that it add representatives of Indigenous Peoples to its international board.
“WWF still doesn’t seem to get it”
Huffman started the discussion with some questions for WWF’s Hemley. He noted that, “WWF still doesn’t seem to get it that in response to this panel’s investigation WWF continues to portray this as largely exculpatory, something that exonerates them from accountability.”
He noted that Hemley referred to the park rangers as government park rangers, and added, “You might just as well mention that these are WWF trained and supported rangers, driving around often in WWF branded vehicles in parks managed and funded by WWF, but you’re much more careful in how you characterise them.”
He highlighted the findings of the review about the Salonga National Park, where WWF appointed the park director, who in turn has direction of the eco-guards. “WWF provided substantial technical and financial support to the eco-guards. That before you entered the MoU, WWF was aware of the potential for human rights abuses by these eco-guards. It goes on and on.”
And he repeated what Knox pointed out in his testimony – that in December 2016, WWF field staff reported allegations of human rights abuses to senior WWF officials. They failed to act on it, the panel found, out of a desire to avoid upsetting the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government.
“There are a number of damning, damning facts in there,” Huffman said, “and yet you’d never know it from listening to your testimony hear today.”
Huffman: So let me just ask you, do you believe WWF bears any responsibility for the abuses that happened in any of the parks that it manages or co-manages?
Hemley: Well thank you Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the question and I know that this is such an important issue. You know I, what I want to say first that, is like I said in my testimony …
Huffman: Just yes or no, Ms. Hemley. It’s a simple question. Do you, does WWF bear any responsibility for the abuses at the parks you manage?
Hemley: Mr. Chairman, there’s no evidence that the panel found that WWF did not participate in or contribute to those abuses. We do however …
Huffman: You decline to answer yes or no whether you bear any responsibility. I’m really not going to give up all my time for you to deflect and dissemble ma’am with all due respect.
To our knowledge, not a single person in the leadership at WWF has lost their jobs or resigned over any of these incidences, including that that panel found received allegations of human rights abuse and chose not to act on them. So not a single person within the WWF network lost their job. Is that correct?
Hemley: We have …
Huffman: That’s another yes or no question ma’am.
Hemley: We have new leadership in the Congo Basin in several countries, Mr. Chairman …
Huffman: No, no, no. Please, you hear my question. It’s a yes or no.
Hemley: I, respectfully, I’m responding to you to the best of my ability, sir. We have made substantial reforms, in our programmatic work …
Huffman: No, there you go again ma’am. I’m asking did anyone lose their job. Yes or no?
Hemley: We have new leadership in parts of the Congo Basin, sir. And I just …
Huffman: I’m going to take that as a no. I can only take that as a no. And that itself is just remarkable. Now can you think of any other organisation or institution in any walk of life, the corporate world, politics, national sports league, where horrific abuses happened under their watch and no one lost their jobs. Can you think of any example? Because I can’t.
Hemley: Mr. Chairman, these instances of abuse are horrific. There’s no question about that …
Huffman: No, no, no, no. We’re not going to just continue to provide you a platform to dissemble. Now what about park rangers who committed these crimes, or their managers? When we read the internal reports, it seems most of them still have their jobs. Is that true?
Hemley: That is not true to the best of my knowledge, sir. I can give you a specific example of Salonga National Park which was the subject of a lot of the discussions so far. It is our understanding that of the 21 eco-guards that were implicated in abuses, five were convicted and sentenced two to 20 years in jail, ten were expelled from their agency, from ICCN, the park agency in the DRC, five have died, and of those convicted, three are appealing. That is the result of pressure from WWF, the German government who’s been a partner with us in Salonga.
Huffman: All right, I appreciate that. At least that is somewhat encouraging. I will close with this. Ms. Hemley, I want you to imagine for a moment that a member of your family had been subjected to the abuses that have been detailed here, torture, rape, murder. And yet, not a single change was made in the organisation that funded, oversaw, managed these park operations. Would you find that acceptable?
Hemley: No that is not acceptable, sir. And moreover, if you’ve read our management response to the panel report we have made fundamental changes at all levels of the organisation …
Huffman: Except for personnel. Except for personnel. Ms. Hemley …
Hemley: We have changed …
Huffman: Thank you, I am out of time.
Eco-guards paid by WWF
Congressman Bentz asked Professor Knox the following question:
Let me talk to what appears to be a kind of underlying justification for what’s going on. It’s almost like we’re hearing, although it certainly isn’t written down here, by these conservation organisations that, sure there are going to be abuses when we’re involved but they are far less than what would happen if we weren’t there. True or false?
Knox replied as follows:
I cannot say that that is true. In many of these situations, the eco-guards, for example, are really only able to operate because of funding that they receive from conservation organisations. In Cameroon, for example, I think it’s pretty clear that the eco-guard patrols and raids on villages were carried out only after getting approval from the funding organisation here WWF.
And in DRC in Salonga the eco-rangers, the eco-guards, basically weren’t receiving any salary except from WWF.
So, I think this is part of why WWF and other conservation organisations in similar positions have to take responsibility. Without their involvement, without their support, in many cases the eco-guards wouldn’t be functioning.
The Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Raúl Grijalva asked a question to WWF’s Hemley: “Who was at the table to develop the update on social safeguards, management response to the investigation? Did WWF include … Indigenous voices in that development?”
Here’s Hemley’s response:
Thank you Chairman. Yes indeed, we included Indigenous leaders, we included human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, Rights and Resources Initiative, we consulted a range of important players to get an objective view, to provide input, and to scrutinise our own practises. We also held a public comment period, if you will, even though we’re an NGO, to open up our policies and practises to the public in May and June of this year, and received hundreds and hundreds of comments. Including from Mr. Knox outside of his capacity as part of our independent panel.
Later on in the hearing, Knox pointed out that Hemley was not being particularly honest here:
The idea that this consultation that they did for their new safeguards was a wide consultation is simply not the case. They adopted the new safeguards in June 2019, shortly after the Buzzfeed articles came out. The consultation that they did this year in 2021 was over safeguards that they had already put in place two years ago.
“A chain of irresponsibility”
Congressman Jerry Carl asked Knox the following question:
In your experience, after your work on the independent panel, what challenges raised at today’s hearings are unique to WWF and which are found more broadly throughout the international conservation efforts?
Knox replied as follows:
Thank you congressman, that’s a really good question. I think WWF is unique in some ways. It’s very, very large. It has extended operations in more than 100 countries in the world. It also has an extremely complicated governance system. It makes accountability much more difficult. I think it’s fair to say that the panel report kind of illustrated that in many cases different WWF offices essentially pointed fingers at one another in a kind of chain of irresponsibility, with each of them taking the position that there was another part of WWF that was really responsible for dealing with this issue. Not all conservation organisations, thankfully, are set up that way. So they don’t all share that kind of problem.
I think many, however, do share a different kind of problem, which is that in many ways they still are, let’s say committed at some level to this idea of fortress conservation. They pay lip service to a rights-based approach to conservation, but they haven’t really added the expertise and the capacity internally to really change their behaviour.
Congressman Carl had a follow up question:
Do you see any signs of change in international conservation organisations?
Knox replied as follows:
As my testimony makes clear, I’ve been very dissapointed by the failure of WWF to make a sharp break with its past. I thought that the board’s decision to appoint the panel in 2019 was a sign they realised that fundamental changes were necessary. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case. And I do think that other international conservation organisations, some of them are in the same position as WWF, or even further behind.
I talk with many people in conservation organisations at lower levels that understand that changes are necessary and it’s possible that the next generation of leaders will bring that change with them. The problem, representative, is that we don’t have time to wait for the next generation of leaders, the species of the planet and the Indigenous Peoples need the change to occur now.
WWF isn’t really doing that. As the chair said, WWF is still relying on the same people that it relied on before. It’s relying on a kind of system of internal volunteers, external consultants, and online training to actually implement its human rights commitments. That hasn’t worked in the past and I don’t think it’s going to work in the future.
I just want to close I guess, if I could, by noting that WWF would never dream of having its organisational expertise on conservation depend primarily on a combination of outside consultants and internal volunteers. Conservationists at WWF, wildlife biologists know very well how hard it is to develop expertise in those areas because they spent years doing it. And WWF should recognise that expertise on human rights and Indigenous relations, local communities, requires just as much education and practical experience and hire people who have that level of expertise, including of course people who are actually members of Indigenous Peoples and local communities themselves.
Quotation “taken out of context”
Representative Paul Gosar asked Knox the following question:
Ms. Hemley testified that the independent review panel stated, “it is to the credit of WWF ROC that it did take a number of positive steps to try to prevent human rights abuses by ecoguards after it hired a community conservation advisor in 2018.” You served on that panel. Is that a fair characterisation of that panel report?
Here’s Knox’s reply:
No, not really. I mean the panel did praise the local office which only had eight people for trying to do what it could. But it’s important to recall the overall context here. WWF had been in the Messok Dja area working with the Congolese government since 2005, and since at least 2011 its goal had been to establish a national park there.
It wasn’t until 2017 that they got around to asking the local communities and Indigenous People if they agreed. When it did do that, it didn’t follow the correct procedures because the local office did not have sufficient guidance from WWF International, which was supposed to be overseeing and supporting them.
So the quote is a little bit, well it is taken out of context. The panel was saying it’s not the local office’s fault which is doing what it could, the responsibility, I’ll just quote from the panel report, the responsibility, we said, must rest with WWF International and the network as a whole which had committed to provide FPIC guidelines, but had not done so. The small WWF ROC office had received insufficient guidance from WWF International, or the National Organisations engaged with the ROC.
Gosar asked a question about the grievance mechanism that WWF is developing for the communities living around the Salonga National Park. “I really want to emphasise this,” Knox replied. “WWF has been saying they are designing this grievance mechanism for at least six years. I guess I’ll say my reaction is I’ll believe it when I actually see it on the ground.”
Direct connection between fortress conservation and human rights abuses
In response to a question from Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón about how restrictions on access to national parks and protected areas is one of the underlying causes of conflict between park rangers and Indigenous Peoples and local communities, Knox said the following:
I think there’s a direct connection between fortress conservation and the kind of human rights abuses that we’re talking about. The problem is that many of these people are among the poorest people in some of the poorest countries in the world. They depend on the forests and rivers that have been their ancestral homes for their material as well as their spiritual and cultural well-being.
When they are excluded from those places, they don’t have good alternatives. It’s not like they can go all get jobs in the city or something like that. So they naturally want to continue to rely on the forest as they have in the past.
The trouble is, if it’s illegal for them even to go into the forest to do anything, and the eco-guards, often poorly trained, are told make sure you keep everyone out, then you’re setting up a situation in which conflicts are, and I cannot emphasise this enough, inevitable between the local communities and Indigenous communities around the parks and the eco-guards in the parks.
There’s no way there won’t be conflicts. And many of them unfortunately will result in abuses. So it’s vital, it’s vital, that the Indigenous Peoples and local communities have access to their ancestral homes. That access does not have to interfere with conservation goals. On the contrary, often Indigenous Peoples are among the best at actually safeguarding the conservation values of what is after all their own homes.
They are the ones who know how to take care of the animals, they are the ones who know if poachers are coming in. They have to be allies of conservation activities. It will simply not work otherwise.
WWF lies about Baka access to national parks in Cameroon
In response to a question from Congressman Darren Soto about the appropriate response when there is a “minor intrusion such as fishing or hunting of non-endangered game” in a protected area, WWF’s Hemley said the following:
We believe that it is important for communities to have access rights and where those rights have been taken away they should be restored. It’s a complicated equation. We’re working with governments to do that, but I can tell you that in Cameroon we have worked to help the Baka people gain access to three national parks we’re they’ve been previously taken away. We are working in the Salonga area to help communities get access to the periphery of the park for those very reasons to access resources to feed themselves, hunting and fishing, and collection of forest products.
Later in the hearing, Congressman Bentz asked Professor Knox whether any of the eleven bullet points listed in Hemley’s testimony suggest that WWF is really going to improve its human rights capacity. Knox replied as follows:
Appointing an ombudsperson, I think, could be a good thing. They first announced that they would appoint an ombudsperson in June 2019, she finally took office in August 2021. I don’t think there’s been a sense of urgency about that that there needs to be. That could certainly be a step in the right direction. No, I don’t want to say that it’s not.
But again, the problem is on the ground in these places. WWF does not have the right expertise on the ground, as well as at higher levels, but especially on the ground to actually carry out the commitments that they have made. And as a result, again, information gets fed up that’s not accurate.
If I could just give one example. The statement that Ms. Hemley just made about WWF providing access to the parks in Cameroon based on the February 2019 MoU is simply not the case. There was an MoU in February 2019, I want to be clear about this, it was delayed for ten years at least after the Baka were told they were going to have access. The MoU when it was finally adopted still didn’t clarify what their access was, it said that action plans would be developed.
I just talked to someone yesterday on the ground in Cameroon who said the Baka still don’t have access. It’s essentially a paper promise that hasn’t been implemented.
That’s the kind of thing that has to change, and it won’t change until the right people are in place.
Towards the end of the hearing, Jared Huffman had another exchange with WWF’s Hemley. Once again, it’s worth quoting at length:
Huffman: Ms. Hemley, we’ve asked you some hard questions today. I’m sure it has not been pleasant or comfortable. I tried in my opening statement to make the point that the work that WWF and other NGOs do in this space in international conservation is vitally important, it’s really important, there are a number of great things that happened in the name of international conservation. You have dedicated your career to this cause and that’s a wonderful thing.
But surely you also see that the strange refusal to be more accountable and candid from WWF is leading to some collateral damage in this field. The last administration cut off a whole bunch of conservation funding that affected other NGOs doing this work, not just WWF. You heard the ranking member in his opening remarks extrapolate that maybe all conservation organisations don’t understand that people are more important than wildlife, and of course there were a number of questions about simply cutting off international conservation funding as a response to these incidents that have happened under WWF’s watch.
So, I just want to ask you as someone who’s dedicated their career to this cause and seen so much that has been put at risk right now, does that trouble you?
Hemley: These stories, these reports have deeply troubled me, as someone who’s dedicated my life to this work. In WWF you know I’ve also seen profound change in the last two years…
Huffman: I’m really sorry to interrupt, but again you’re not answering my question. I’m not asking about the stories and the reports I’m asking about the collateral damage that is happening right now in the Congress and beyond where international conservation funding is potentially being put at risk because so many people are frustrated, and exasperated, and incredulous about WWF’s failure to take responsibility.
You wouldn’t answer a simple yes/no question about whether you bear any responsibility, much less provide the apology that Mr. Knox and others have requested.
Does it trouble you that this reaction to the way you’ve handled this is putting international conservation funding itself at risk?
Hemley: Mr. Chairman, we have taken responsibility, we have made reforms, we have overhauled how we work on the ground to put communities at the centre, we’ve put safeguards in place, we’ve hired an ombudsperson, we’ve added capacity, contrary to what Mr. Knox has said, we have added capacity in human rights, we have added capacity on safeguards. We do want to be responsible, we’re dedicated to these places, that’s why I do this work personally. We’re dedicated to the people, and the wildlife, and these wonderful forests. So, I would ask that you look at what we are doing on the ground. We’d be very pleased to talk with you separately about all the changes we’re making. We hope …
Huffman: Ms. Hemley, with all due respect, your CEO did try that. He tried the goodwill tour, came into my office. Frankly we have no shortage of, you know, happy talk. What we’re missing is the direct accountability and transparency that others have been discussing.
And I would just submit that it not only presents collateral damage for a lot of NGOs who are trying to do this work to the highest standards, it potentially creates a race to the bottom because if other NGOs that are working in this space see that WWF can violate our standards and sensibilities then just do a PR tour without changing any personnel that’s kind of a race to the bottom. That’s not what we want here.
Huffman asked Knox what he would do if he were in charge, could decide how WWF responded, rewinding back to 2019 and before. “What should have happened, in you expert opinion?” Huffman asked.
Knox replied as follows:
The panel report is of course 160 pages long, with lots of recommendations. Let me sum it up really briefly. I think WWF needed to change fundamentally its personnel involved in making these decisions. They have not built the capacity. The response from the panel makes clear that the way they are trying to build the capacity is by adding a few people in a few positions, but they’re not really adding the human rights capacity at all the levels that they need.
They haven’t made the changes at the top that they needed to make. They need to bring in new voices to their board to start with. And those new board voices need to include Indigenous and local community voices. Some of the things that happened in the past would not have happened if their board had included those kinds of voices.
And they just have to change what you’ve described, sir, as this happy talk….
Build the capacity, be more honest and open about the problems they face, and take responsibility. Then go forward on that basis.