© Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus


The Environmental and Social Safeguards Framework (ESSF) was formally approved by the WWF International Board in 2019 and subsequently adopted by every office in the network.  A commitment to a public consultation on the Framework was made at that time.

WWF’s Social Policies were between 12-15 years old and were in need of an update. 

There was therefore a clear rationale for why both the ESSF and Social Policies needed to undergo a consultation and revision process.

In 2021, a consultation - both public and internal - was held and feedback came from a diverse range of stakeholders including subject matter experts, process experts, academics, practitioners and policy advocates.  The interim report on the consultation process provides further details and a final report will be available in July.

Through an extensive, network-wide effort that pulled on practitioners from different regions with technical, legal, policy and systems development expertise, the revised documents were finalized in March 2023 and subsequently approved by the International Board. These are referred to as the 2023 ESSF and Statements of Principles. The previous versions will be referred to as the 2019 ESSF and Social Policies.

© WWF / Simon Rawles

The relationship between the ESSF and other Network standards

The ESSF does not exist in isolation from other aspects of WWF’s work, which include our broader social and human rights responsibilities and commitments. The most significant of these are defined by WWF’s core standards, which are mandatory and apply to all of WWF’s work. 

The core standards most closely associated with the implementation of the ESSF are the three Statements of Principles on:

  • Human Rights
  • Gender Equality
  • Indigenous Peoples

All Statements of Principles commit to respecting internationally proclaimed human rights in relation to their topic. The ESSF supports these commitments by introducing concrete steps and requirements which help to identify and address unintended impacts on these rights arising in relation to place-based activities. Further commitments of the Statements of Principles include the promotion of internationally proclaimed human rights, the use of a human rights based approach and seeking to embed gender responsiveness in WWF’s work.

© Daniel Martínez / WWF-Peru

The office of the ombudsperson

The Office of the Ombudsperson offers communities an independent channel for raising their concerns about WWF activities which may affect them, and to have those concerns meaningfully and fairly addressed through an independent process.

The Office of the Ombudsperson is governed by an operating framework that establishes a mandate enabling it to address complaints, provide ongoing advice through lessons learnt to WWF and build the capacity of communities and WWF to strengthen WWF grievance systems.

For more information on the Office of the Ombudsperson contact: info@wwfombudsoffice.org

© Fronteer

The Structure and Components of the ESSF

The safeguards framework consists of:

  • Three procedural safeguards that are applied to all place-based activities 
  • Six substantive safeguards that are applied where relevance to the place-based activities is identified through safeguards screening
  • A list of excluded activities
  • Five cross-cutting issues where intersectionality with the place-based activities is also analyzed in safeguards screening. 

The cross-cutting issues that form part of the safeguards screening process are human rights, gender equality and women’s rights, children’s rights, conflict-sensitivity (including human-wildlife conflict) and climate change.These issues are relevant to the majority of places where we work and intersect with our activities and actions, although the measures to effectively address them may sometimes fall outside the scope of the ESSF or WWF’s ability to manage or influence. The screening of cross-cutting issues also provides important contextual information for the design and implementation of specific safeguards.


A WWF Framework on Conservation Law Enforcement is under development. Conservation law enforcement is diverse and complex with some aspects, such as its influence on community health, safety and security, closely linked to safeguarding considerations. To manage WWF’s support to conservation law enforcement in a holistic manner, tools, guidance notes and standards have been - or are being - developed, tested and approved.   These will not be part of the ESSF but will have strong links to it where a law enforcement aspect has an implication for safeguards implementation.

© Sophearoth Ravy / WWF Cambodia

Frequently asked questions

  1. What are place-based activities? 
    Place-based activities are those where WWF engages in on-the-ground conservation, including activities implemented through partners.

  2. How has ESSF evolved?
    The safeguards have evolved through operational feedback from staff, partners and communities applying ESSF in place-based activities, as well as feedback from a public consultation  conducted in 2021. You can read more about this consultation here

  3. Are there any activities that WWF does not engage in under any circumstances?
    Yes, WWF maintains a list of excluded activities as part of the ESSF. These are activities that we cannot and will not implement, fund or support under any circumstances. If proposed work is found to include any of the excluded activities, it must be re-designed to remove the respective activities.

  4. What if a member of the community wants to report an issue?
    Hearing and addressing concerns is a fundamental responsibility for all WWF staff and offices. The Speak Up! WWF Network Core Standard on Whistleblowing and Complaints Management specifies how complaints on any subject can be submitted. For complaints related to the application of the ESSF, the Safeguard on Grievance Mechanism and Office of the Ombudsperson provide additional options.    

  5. Where can I find out about all WWF’s Network Protocols and Policies?
    Every individual, office and programme of WWF bears fundamental responsibility for honouring our values, our policies and our safeguards, and abiding by the governance and internal processes we’ve built to deliver on the same. Read more here for a list of our most critical policies and protocols.



Do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions, recommendations or any other kind of feedback; we're happy to receive it. Get in touch at safeguardshelpdesk@wwfint.org.