WWF’s commitment to embed human rights in nature conservation: Updates and voices from the WWF network

Posted on June, 30 2021

Following the publication of Embedding Human Rights in Nature Conservation - from Intent to Action’,  the global WWF network has been making steady strides to deliver on the actions we outlined in our accompanying Management Response.

There is still a lot to do, but here are key actions that build on the steps we have already taken so far: In addition:
  • Our Network Conservation Quality Committee (CQC) continues to oversee and consider all potentially high-risk proposals, with 27 projects approved to date, with conditions. CQC has also approved country-level action plans to address Panel recommendations for those countries covered by the Independent Review. 
  • In Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, these action plans include recommendations received from local rights- and stakeholder groups through consultations held on the Independent Review and its findings. 
  • We are strengthening our capacity in the Congo Basin and Africa region on safeguards, legal, operational and quality assurance functions, with increased management oversight - several roles are currently being recruited in a first wave.
  • As capacity building for teams in-country and training for all staff on safeguards continues, more than 40% of landscapes, seascapes and river basins where we work have been screened against our strengthened ESSF framework. We have also developed new tools to help us track our implementation of ESSF in all high and medium risk landscapes and monitor progress through the required steps according to milestones.
  • We have begun a procurement process for a third party risk assessment provider to add an external perspective to our analysis of country and sub-national risks where we work.
To ensure we progress with our actions across the WWF Network, we have assembled a dedicated team of network leaders and experts to coordinate and drive progress. Progress reports are submitted to the Network Executive Team (NET) and the International Board at every meeting to oversee implementation, and help ensure that any challenges are addressed.

Kirsten Schuyt, CEO, WWF-Netherlands and Action Plan network lead said:
The Independent Review was a critical mirror to our work at WWF and has since become a catalyst for the steps we’ve been taking to make conservation more inclusive. The WWF network has come together to further deepen our understanding and delivery of more inclusive conservation projects that are owned and led by Indigenous people and local communities. We are prioritizing building capacity of our teams on the ground to support the design of such projects, with adequate safeguards, as well as strengthening our global compliance, governance and management to ensure consistent implementation across all our areas of work.

“We are also committed to do our part to ensure our partners uphold their human rights obligations and our values and standards, and we will share with government partners in high risk landscapes our affirmative statement on WWF’s commitments to human rights. 

“As a conservation organisation, we are guided by our conviction to continually do better and deliver greater impact for people and for the nature we all depend upon.”

Alice Ruhweza, Director, WWF’s Regional Office for Africa said:
“I have grown up witnessing how closely people and nature are intertwined and yet, I also know from experience that many of the challenges communities face are often rooted in socioeconomic and political contexts that are not directly related to conservation. In recent years, conservation has been evolving to help address such issues. With the agendas of nature, climate and sustainable development converging, we have an unmissable opportunity to scale these efforts. The key to doing so is listening deeply to the people and communities at the forefront of conservation efforts and supporting their efforts to preserve and sustainably manage their lands and the nature it holds. 

“We have been holding local dialogues with rights- and stakeholders in the countries we work, following the Independent Review and in the context of our recent public consultation, to hear from them how we can better deliver conservation together. We have improved how impacted communities can raise concerns, such as through our work with a national Indigenous alliance, RACOPY (Réseau Recherches Actions Concertées Pygmées), in Cameroon and weekly visits to villages in the Republic of Congo, and strengthened our safeguards and systems for screening and approving projects deemed “high risk” -  we have started implementing safeguards in more than 40% of landscapes and seascapes in Africa and also globally. This is a significant commitment but the WWF network has come together to ensure additional resources are deployed for the countries assessed in the Independent Review and that best practices and learnings are shared to support more teams in their efforts, including through a dedicated Environmental and Social Safeguards and Social Policies Team.”

Richard Caines, Director of Safeguards and Human Rights, WWF International said:
“Human rights and nature protection reinforce each other. We want to ensure that our social policies and safeguards capture that - and is the intent behind the global public consultation. The way in which we respect and uphold rights - for Indigenous peoples, for communities and for a healthy environment itself - must be clear and consistently applied in all the places where we work. We continue to build our internal capacity and our collaboration with expertise outside WWF to help us achieve this goal”.

Lucy Aquino, Country Director, WWF-Paraguay said:
“Our values of respect, courage, integrity and collaboration have long driven our conservation work here in Paraguay and it is heartening to see them further anchor our efforts around the world. As we attempt to mend humanity’s broken relationship with nature, we must learn from nature’s historic custodians and fully support their efforts to protect, defend and restore their lands and waters. We are doing this through global efforts such as the recent State of the Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ lands and territories report as well as locally through initiatives such as improving communications capacity within communities in isolated areas through strengthened access to community radios, internet and phones, and supporting their travel to cities and towns to advocate for their rights with central authorities.
“Several rural communities and Indigenous communities still lack access to basic rights such as food security, water, education, health, and land tenure, among others. Here in Paraguay, we are supporting these communities to have the opportunity to raise their voices for their rights. In particular, our work with Indigenous people drives us to support them on their greatest right for inclusion through “Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)”, a legal right which many were sometimes unaware of. Every project or programme executed in their region has been developed with their participation and consultation.
“The only way to work with Indigenous people and local communities is with humility, respect, and openness. Our grievance mechanism has been implemented with a clear message and open lines of communication with WWF, teaching us a lot about how we should interact with rural communities and Indigenous peoples: their wishes, their dreams, their resentments, but above all their rights.
“We still have a long way to go - we are a big network and to ensure our teams everywhere have the capacity, and agency, to consistently ensure a people-first approach is a tall order - but we are determined to do our best.”

WWF is committed to embrace all recommendations made by the Independent Panel.