Humanosphere is on hiatus. Many thanks to our web design, development and hosting partner Culture Foundry for keeping the site active while we plan our next move. Culture Foundry builds, evolves and supports next-level websites and applications for clients you know, and you couldn’t ask for a better partner to help you thrive in digital. If you’re considering an ambitious website design or development project, we encourage you to make them your very first call.

World Wildlife Fund under fire for destruction of native lands in Congo Basin

A young Pygmy father and child in Nyunzu, Katanga, DR Congo. File 2015. (Credit: MONUSCO/Abel Kavanagh)

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has won an undesirable award for “greenwashing” after partnering with companies that destroy forests in the Congo without the consent of the tribes that live there.

Survival International’s “Greenwashing of the Year” award is given to companies or organizations that dress up the destruction of tribal peoples’ forests under the guise of conservation.

“WWF’s supporters might be surprised to learn that it’s working so closely with the loggers who are destroying one of Earth’s great rainforests. Congo Basin tribes, the original guardians, are being pushed aside and their societies wrecked,” Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said in a statement.

“Perhaps this ‘award’ might encourage people inside WWF … to put pressure on their organizations for reform,” he said. “It’s time to listen to tribal conservationists.”

The WWF is a Geneva-based nongovernmental organization that partners with seven companies that are logging nearly 4 million hectares of forests belonging to the Baka and Bayaka “Pygmies” in central Africa. According to Survival International, these forest peoples have lived by hunting and gathering in central Africa’s rainforests for millennia.

In the past few decades, however, their lands have been devastated by logging, war and encroachment from farmers. Many communities have been displaced by conservation projects, facing extreme levels of poverty and ill-health in ‘squatter’ settlements on the fringes of forest land that was once theirs.

While WWF officials said its partnerships are intended to “advance sustainable forest management,” all of the foundation’s partners have been accused of illegal logging, and Survival International officials said that none has received consent from the Baka and Bayaka “Pygmies.”

The partnerships also violate WWF’s own policy on indigenous peoples, Survival International points out, which requires all projects to be undertaken with the full consent of tribal communities.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2013, WWF International’s President Yolanda Kakabadse said that the organization’s conservation philosophy has changed considerably since its foundation in the early 1960s, and that it is now “much more selective” in how it picks partners.

Still, it is consistently criticized for “selling its soul” to powerful companies like Coca-Cola, Shell and Monsanto that use the WWF brand to mask destructing logging operations, according to the Guardian report. WWF has the highest possible score on the Greenwashing Index, a consumer watchdog site run by EnviroMedia Social Marketing and the University of Oregon.

Kakabadse told the Guardian that consumer interests pose an “enormous threat to sustainability,” but argued that engagement with the corporate sector is necessary if the organization is to move forward. “Greenwashing” is a global problem, she added – not something that WWF can address on its own.

“We can say things can be different but what is the solution?” Kakabadse said. “If someone has the solution then come and give it!”


About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at