Survival International has abandoned its OECD complaint that the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) funded human rights abuses in Cameroon.
Survival International made the complaint in February 2016. The OECD accepted the complaint at the beginning of 2017. The OECD set up a mediation between Survival International and WWF on 6-7 July 2017, in government offices in Bern. Since then talks had continued, but on 5 September 2017 Survival International pulled out.
In an article about the breakdown in talks, Stephen Corry, Survival International’s director, describes the complaint:
The complaint detailed Survival’s allegations that WWF was party to the theft and control of the lands of Baka “Pygmies” in Cameroon, and that the Baka were suffering catastrophic levels of abuse as a result. We said that WWF had made no attempt either to apply its own policy on indigenous peoples, or to abide by the OECD guidelines, which are designed to prevent human rights abuses arising from corporate activities.
Sticking point: No consent
The sticking point in the talks came when Survival International asked WWF to agree to get the consent of the Baka about how conservation on their lands will be managed in the future. WWF refused to do so, Survival International states on its website. And at that point, Survival International decided “there was no purpose continuing the talks”.
WWF’s statement of principles on indigenous peoples and conservation includes the following:
WWF will not promote or support, and may actively oppose, interventions which have not received the prior free and informed consent of affected indigenous communities, and/or would adversely impact – directly or indirectly – on the environment of indigenous peoples’ territories, and/or would affect their rights.
The principles specifically mention that this applies to the “creation of protected areas or imposition of restrictions on subsistence resource use”.
In his article, Corry boils down Survival’s complaint into two key points:
- When WWF partnered with the Cameroon government to create trophy hunting zones and national parks on the Baka’s land, WWF made no attempt to consult the Baka. “The Baka were kicked out, and even now WWF won’t consult them over how these areas are managed,” Corry writes.
- WWF funds park guards who have assaulted, tortured and killed Baka people. These attacks have taken place inside and outside park boundaries. “The notion that this reign of terror aids wildlife protection is nonsense,” Corry writes. “Some WWF-funded guards are themselves poachers and the Baka have shown themselves better conservationists than WWF anyway.”
WWF denies doing anything wrong
In the mediation in Bern, Survival International focussed on one request: “WWF must establish a high-level unit to ensure indigenous peoples’ consent to work on their land, foresee problems, and investigate and act on abuses.” This would be an office to ensure that WWF is complying with its own policy.
The details of the OECD mediation are confidential. “Nothing new was said,” Corry writes.
WWF repeated that the OECD complaint process should not be invoked for its work, and asserted that none of the Baka’s allegations were proven. It said it already had a complaint mechanism, so there was no need for the new office that Survival was calling for.
WWF refuses to acknowledge that it has done anything wrong.
The Ecologist published Corry’s article, and asked WWF for a response. Frederick Kumah, Director of WWF’s Regional Office in Africa, replied with a statement that reaffirms WWF’s commitment to “working on the ground with local and international organizations for the advancement of the rights of the Baka people”.
Then Kumah goes on the attack:
After having invested over a year in the process offered by the Swiss NCP and having discussed solutions together in Bern, we are appalled that Survival International would abandon these efforts and violate the integrity of this process they triggered. Walking away solves nothing and benefits no one. It is yet another example of Survival’s irresponsible approach – focussed on criticizing from a distance but not on finding effective solutions – to the complex issues on the ground.
But according to Corry’s version of the mediation in Bern, Survival International was only asking WWF to comply with its own policy on indigenous peoples and conservation. Which WWF refused to do.
UPDATE – 3 October 2017: Headline amended to make clear that Survival International pulled out of the OECD mediation, but still stands by the complaint. The previous headline read, “Survival International pulls out of OECD complaint against WWF”.