Silence of the pandas
In late June, the major German public broadcaster ARD aired a 45 minute documentary on WWF called The Pact with the Panda, in its German version. An English language version of the programme under the title The Silence of the Pandas has since been posted online.
The programme itself and the subsequent public debate has generated a lot of strong feeling both in support of and against WWF. We'd like to take this chance to set the record straight.
We here at WWF are naturally dismayed by both the negative, provocative tone of the programme and the inaccurate, misleading and untruthful allegations contained in it.
At WWF, we welcome constructive criticism and honest, open debate. When we do make mistakes we try to correct them as quickly as possible and learn from them to improve our future work.
We strive to be as transparent as possible and you can find details of how much money we receive, where we get it from and what we spend it on.
We work on conservation and environmental issues which are complex and don't always lend themselves to easy "right" or "wrong" answers.
Of course, the makers of The Pact with the Panda are entitled to their opinion. All we're asking is that they base their opinion on informed and balanced research, not biased and deliberate distortion. Unfortunately, this documentary is not a balanced appraisal of WWF's work around the globe with some fair criticism and questioning of aspects of it. It is characterised by provocative and misleading allegations on the basis of “facts” that weren’t checked and are often downright wrong. It fails to meet even the most basic of journalistic standards.
The key complaint of the programme appears to be that WWF works with business. Yes, WWF does work with business. We are proud of our approach because it gets results. The world's environmental and conservation challenges are not going be solved without the help and support of big business.
The Pact with the Panda blames WWF for the actions of governments and companies and fundamentally misunderstands or misrepresents our work to make the production of commodities like timber, sugar, palm oil and soy more environmentally and socially sustainable.
Interviewees are wrongly described as being WWF spokespeople, their roles in WWF are wrongly described or their words are taken out of context. Archive footage from an earlier and unassociated programme is confusingly edited into the programme as though it was shot recently.
Here are just a few examples of misleading or inaccurate claims contained in The Pact with the Panda (there are many):
- WWF gave its agreement to industry plans for the conversion of 9 million hectares of West Papua to palm oil plantations.
This is not true. WWF has never authorised - and has no power to authorise - the conversion of 9 million hectares of West Papua to palm oil plantations. Even the most extreme government forecasts do not come up with West Papua palm oil figures approaching even half this figure.
- WWF collected money for orang-utans but had no orang-utan projects in Borneo.
TV network ARD removed this allegation from its promotional material after being advised of numerous specific WWF orang-utan conservation projects in Borneo – along with other WWF programmes that benefit orang-utans and orang-utan habitat by reducing deforestation. The claim, although readily able to be shown wrong, remained until recently in publicity material associated with the programme’s producers.
- WWF certified as sustainable a 14,500 hectare palm oil plantation where only 80 ha of forest had been preserved.
Untrue. WWF does not certify the sustainability of companies, plantations or palm oil. Aerial surveys show that on that plantation nearly 5000 hectares, or nearly one third of the native forest, has been reserved.
- WWF has a partnership with Monsanto.
Untrue. There is no direct relationship between WWF and Monsanto.
In 2004, WWF was a founder member of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS): a body set up to promote economically viable, socially equitable and environmentally responsible production of soy. The RTRS, which operates independently of WWF, accepted Monsanto as a member in 2009.
WWF, along with many other scientific and non-government organisations, also provides advice to the Global Harvest Initiative, an agribusiness body of which Monsanto is a member.
Over a few years prior to 1992 Monsanto made some relatively small donations to WWF- US. Like other companies, it has also matched some voluntary donations to WWF from its employees. None of these donations was tied to any programme or project.
- WWF has "given its blessing" to genetically modified soy.
Untrue. WWF has not “given its blessing” to genetically modified soy or any other Genetically Modified Organism (GMO). The Pact with the Panda fundamentally misunderstands or misrepresents WWF’s work to support the environmentally and socially sustainable production of commodities like timber, sugar and palm oil and soy.
WWF’s overall view on GMOs has been guided by the precautionary principle, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and relevant decisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
WWF’s priority in working on soy related issues is to reduce the forest destruction which comes with large-scale soy production.
The documentary was badly let down by its reliance on unchecked assertions and its own lack of fact-checking. Check the real facts here