© Luis Barreto / WWF-UK
Human rights and the environment report 2022: WWF'S Management response to the Independent Review
Year 2 Implementation Update

In 2020, we published the findings of the Independent Panel Review that we commissioned to evaluate our response to allegations of human rights abuses committed by particular government rangers in Central Africa, India and Nepal. While the Panel found no evidence that WWF staff directed, participated in, or encouraged any abuses, it was unsparing in identifying shortcomings in WWF’s actions and systems. It provided recommendations of actions we needed to take to become a stronger ally to local communities in all of our work - 50 general recommendations covering WWF’s work and an additional 29 specific actions relating to country-level programmes. 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 Panel’s recommendations through a three-year ‘Action Plan’ programme. Our progress has been significant; however it has also been uneven in certain countries and on particular topics. 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 dedicated ‘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. In addition, an independent assessment of progress against the Panel’s recommendations will be conducted after three years.

Today, we share with our partners, supporters, donors, and the public our second annual update on the progress made and the challenges we have faced since the Panel concluded its work. 

We have seen progress in the specific landscapes assessed by the Independent Panel. This year we have partnered for sustainable development and rights-based conservation, supported and advocated for the rights of indigenous peoples, and embedded the voices of indigenous peoples in our country-level strategies. Some example of this work includes:

  • In Cameroon, we advocated for the recognition and protection of access rights including continuing to support the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between government partners and Indigenous Peoples, we worked with partners to facilitate implementation of the grievance mechanism, we improved rangers’ training on human rights, we worked to embed environmental safeguards and social policies in our work, and we finalised our socio-economic strategy.
  • In the Central African Republic, we continued to support the Human Rights Centre in Bayanga; we continued to work with Chengeta Wildlife to embed human rights into ranger training curricula, support inclusive recruitment processes and share expertise on monitoring; and we collaborated with the Ministry of Justice to implement environmental and social safeguards through a reinforced partnership.
  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we established a closer working relationship with ICCN, the public enterprise with responsibility for protected areas, and greater alignment and agreement on the necessity of taking a human rights-based approach to law enforcement in the country.
  • In the Republic of the Congo, we continued to strengthen our engagement with Indigenous Peoples and local community stewards of sustainable development through a multi-stakeholder platform, which also provided recommendations on improving our grievance mechanisms that were embedded: we embedded environmental and social safeguards, and social policies in our work; we are working to revise the MoU for the ETIC conservation programme to include environmental and social safeguards and human rights base principles; we supported a code of conduct and supporting disciplinary consequences for government rangers through involvement in the ETIC disciplinary council; we provided input into the design of the national training curriculum for rangers; and we are in the process of establishing a country office presence in Brazzaville.
  • In India, we have focused on building capacity and strengthening our internal processes on social safeguarding, and on completing our landscape screenings. We have completed an environmental and social mitigation framework for the Kaziranga Karbi Anglong Landscape; collated, and put into locally accessible formats, information on government grievance mechanisms; continued our efforts to ensure that law enforcement training we support integrates human rights; and are working towards integrating a human rights module into the curriculum of all ranger training colleges in India.
  • In Nepal, we are incorporating and strengthening the human-rights-based approach in programmes and activities, proactively reaching out to partners and stakeholders on WWF’s social policies and safeguards, and building our own capacity to fully implement the WWF Environmental and Social Safeguards Framework (ESSF).

On a global basis, we have also made progress, including by:

  • Defining the Office of the Ombudsperson Operating Framework, following their appointment in 2021. A proposed Operating Framework was subject to public consultation from November 2022 to January 2023, and will be reviewed for approval by the WWF International Board in March 2023.
  • Advancing our ESSF, continuing its implementation across the landscapes and seascapes where we work, learning from that experience, and incorporating the lessons to inform proposed revisions that will be submitted for approval and then adoption across the network in 2023.
  • Screening landscapes in line with our ESSF. As of December 2022, 289 of 374 (77%) landscapes and seascapes where WWF works were being or had been screened for environmental and social risks. 
  • Building capacity in environmental and social safeguards and social policies. For example, continuing efforts meant that as of late 2022, there were 21 accredited safeguard experts across the network, and 8,643 staff had completed a foundational training course, Making Sense of Safeguards, which was introduced in April 2020 and made available in several languages. 
  • Supporting and improving complaints channels and grievance mechanisms, with 89% of WWF office sites having published a country-level complaints channel in line with our SpeakUp! core standard as of December 2022. This is an increase on the 63% figure as of November 2021.
  • Including more Indigenous and First Nations Peoples’ voices in our governance. With two new appointments in two different offices in 2022, the number of Indigenous and First Nations Peoples representatives on WWF governance boards and advisory groups now totals 10 (seven and three, respectively). These trustees sit across seven different offices in the WWF network. Further, the International Board has also approved the appointment of an Indigenous and First Nations trustee on the board and the recruitment process has been initiated.
  • Advancing efforts in ethical law enforcement and partnering in ranger training on human rights. We made progress in four areas: ranger training, developing and piloting the Law Enforcement Due Diligence Tool, onboarding a Director of Ethical Law Enforcement, and advocating for the adoption of the Ranger Code of Conduct.

As we work on delivering our Action Plan, we recognise the need to be open about the many challenges we face. Doing so will help drive 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 organisational 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.

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, engaging in ongoing direct dialogue, soliciting peer and critical review, and undertaking public consultation on our social policies and environmental and social safeguards and on the Office of the Ombudsperson Operating Framework. Each brings a unique and important perspective, and collectively they 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, solid and 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 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.