© Andy Isaacson / WWF-US
WWF's Management Response to the Independent Review: Year 1 Implementation Update

One year ago, we published the findings of the Independent Review that we commissioned to evaluate our response to allegations of human rights abuses committed by some government rangers in Central Africa, India, and Nepal. While the Panel was clear that they found no evidence that WWF staff directed, participated in, or encouraged any abuses, the Panel was unsparing in identifying shortcomings in WWF’s actions and systems, providing 79 recommendations of actions we need to take to become a stronger ally to local communities in all of our work. The Panel called on us to become more disciplined, more consistent, and more deliberate in creating enabling conditions for communities’ rights to be respected, and in using our agency in pressing governments to act when bad things happened on the ground.

As set out in our Management Response, we have been working hard collectively as a network to address the recommendations of the Panel through a three-year Action Plan. Our progress has been significant—but uneven—across the 100 countries in which we operate. Though early in our journey, we are dedicated to fully delivering on our commitments to create improved outcomes for people everywhere we work.

To hold ourselves accountable, we established an Action Plan Steering Group that oversees progress across the network and reports directly and regularly to the Network Executive Team (NET) and the International Board. This Group will produce regular updates on our implementation, and we will conduct an independent assessment of progress against the Panel’s recommendations after three years.

Today, we share with our partners, supporters, donors, and the public an update on the steps we have taken, the progress made, and the challenges we have faced in the first year since the Panel concluded its work. 

We have seen progress in the landscapes assessed by the Independent Panel, including:

  • In the Central African Republic, we continue to support the Human Rights Centre we helped create and ensure ranger trainings include human rights;
  • In Cameroon, we are working to ensure full implementation of the 2019 government agreement that grants the Baka People access to national parks in southeast Cameroon, and we are partnering with local human rights and Indigenous Peoples' groups to strengthen grievance mechanisms in the region;
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we finalized a new Partnership Agreement with the government for Salonga National Park that firmly places human rights at the centre of community-centred conservation. Amongst other efforts, a new grievance mechanism to support local communities will be established and managed by a third-party organization, and work will be undertaken to professionalize ranger forces to ensure anti-poaching activities fully respect human rights;
  • In the Republic of Congo, we continue to strengthen the grievance mechanisms for the Baka People and local communities as part of an inclusive approach to conservation, while also advocating for the government to better embed human rights and customary use rights in law enforcement;
  • In Nepal, we pressed the government to act when human rights abuses were reported, even though they occurred in an area outside of where WWF works;
  • In India, we are working towards embedding human rights training into the curriculum of the government-run ranger training colleges.
On a global basis, we have also made progress, including by:
  • hiring an independent Ombudsperson, the first in the conservation sector, as a pillar of our efforts to implement environmental and social safeguards;
  • consulting widely and seeking public feedback on the environment and social safeguards and social policies that underpin our work. We are now in the process of revising the safeguards and policies to reflect the feedback we received;
  • moving to advise governments of our commitments and incorporate human rights clauses in new agreements and contracts;
  • establishing a reference code of conduct for ranger workforces through the Universal Ranger Support Alliance (URSA) and developing a new due diligence tool to strengthen WWF’s risk assessments and mitigation measures related to ethical conservation law enforcement;
  • launching new WWF Values and Core Standards and continuing to work through global oversight committees on quality assurance and risk to ensure compliance across the WWF network.
As we work on delivering our Action Plan, we recognize the need to be open about the many challenges we face. Doing so will help drive tangible action with on-the-ground benefits for the local communities with whom we work. Some of the challenges encountered thus far include:
  • speaking up and ensuring the safety of staff who live in places with weak governance and commitments to human rights;
  • overcoming capacity weaknesses in our own organizational structures that have impeded us from moving as quickly as we would like;
  • engaging in safe, respectful local consultations and implementing actions on the ground during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But regardless of where challenges originate or how difficult they will be to overcome, we are resolute in our determination to deliver on our commitments, for nature, and for future generations.

We know that achieving our vision—a world in which both people and nature thrive—depends on our ability to seek out and hear feedback, however difficult it may be. We do this through myriad avenues such as listening directly to communities, commissioning the Independent Panel report, engaging in ongoing direct dialogue, soliciting peer and critical review, and undertaking public consultation on our social policies and environmental and social safeguards. Each brings a unique and important perspective, and collectively they will guide the steps we are taking to help deliver on-the-ground change.

We are grateful to those who have supported us as we undertake this vital work, whether by offering guidance, advice, praise, or criticism. We value all of the feedback we have received. To everyone, we say that the commitments we made in our Management Response are comprehensive. They are solid. And they are real. We believe they will help us deliver better outcomes for people and conservation. We are dedicated to moving as quickly as possible to effect change, but we know from our six decades of conservation work that lasting change is not achieved overnight. We know we are a long way from the impact we want to see. But we are committed to do more, focusing on action and monitoring progress to ensure we deliver. We will continue to listen, learn, and refine our approach. We thank everyone who has engaged with us in these early days of this journey and invite you to continue providing constructive feedback as we seek to deliver on our commitments.