World Wildlife Fund

The World Wildlife Fund is one of the largest and most recognizable conservation groups in the world. But as with any massive, deep-pocketed organization, the WWF has been riddled with corruption. Beyond corruption, the WWF has been tied to human rights atrocities throughout the planet.

The WWF is one of the most well-funded nonprofits in the environmental movement, with hundreds of millions of dollars flowing in each year. Some of its largest donors are large-scale foundations known for cutting massive checks including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the New Venture Fund — the dark money group managed by Arabella Advisors.

Teaming Up With Torturers

In 2019, reporters with Buzzfeed released a shocking report that directly tied WWF to human rights atrocities that were taking place in Asia and Africa. 

For many years, WWF hired “rangers” in foreign countries to help enforce anti-poaching policies in Africa and Asia. According to the Buzzfeed report, the rangers hired by WWF were involved in horrific human rights violations. Witnesses said that the rangers maimed, tortured, and murdered people suspected of poaching or trespassing on wildlife reserves. One witness said a group of rangers tortured an 11-year-old boy in front of his family because of suspected poaching. 

Rather than stepping in to stop the atrocities, WWF lobbied to have the charges dropped against the rangers and even celebrated when rangers were released without charges. 

Shortly after the report was released, WWF denied any wrongdoing but commissioned an independent study about the allegations, stating, “While many of BuzzFeed’s assertions do not match our understanding of events, we have commissioned an independent review into the matters raised.”

Nearly a year later, WWF released the findings of its investigation. The independent firm determined that the WWF had not actively ordered the violent actions, but they had done little to stop it from happening. The investigation found that WWF had “no formal mechanism in place for WWF to be informed of alleged abuses” and that the organization had drug its feet in responding to the allegations once they were raised. 

“In December 2016, WWF field staff reported allegations of human rights abuses to senior WWF DRC officials. WWF could and should have developed and implemented an appropriate response as quickly as possible after the allegations arose,” the investigators noted. 

Creating Conservation Refugees

WWF has been accused of creating “conservation refugees” by forcing native tribes out of their land to protect the wildlife residing nearby — even though the tribes and wildlife have cohabitated the same regions for centuries. 

Survival International, a group that defends tribal rights, said that WWF forbade tribes from hunting in areas they had hunted for centuries, despite there being scant evidence that the tribes were damaging any of the animal populations in those regions. 

After tribes are booted from their land, the WWF often uses that very land to pad its own pockets by leading tours — typically selling for $10,000 a pop — so wealthy individuals can fill Jeeps to go see the wildlife that WWF is “protecting.”

Hefty Salaries, Celebrity Friends, And Taxpayers’ Money

WWF is extremely well funded, even as it acts like a cash-strapped nonprofit. 

Marcia Marsh, the organization’s COO, was paid $902,603 in 2019, according to public financial disclosures. Carter Robers, the CEO, was paid $858,276 in 2019. The organization’s Form 990 lists at least nine employees making more than $300,000 and 240 others earning over $100,000. 

In total, the organization has more than $375 million in net assets, including ownership of a massive building in Washington D.C. that rents office space to many prominent figures, including former President Barack Obama.  

The organization has plenty of celebrity ties. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is a member of WWF’s board of directors. DiCaprio is known for both his environmental preaching and his failure to live up to it

With a healthy bank account and some rich friends, one would think WWF is the last group that would need taxpayer funding. But that’s not the case. WWF has collected more than $157 million in federal grants over the past 15 years to oversee USAID programs abroad. 

Pay-for-Play Sustainability Ratings

While the WWF is fond of protecting pandas, they’re also pretty fond of protecting its pocketbook. In 2012, Wilfried Huismann wrote a book, The Silence of the Pandas, detailing the ways in which WWF International raked in cash from major corporations in exchange for the WWF to grant a “sustainability” accreditation to the corporations. 

The WWF was outraged by the book and immediately launched a legal campaign to prevent the book from ever hitting the shelf. The legal campaign had some success, too. The book was barred from being sold in the U.K. until 2016.

“WWF is a willing service provider to the giants of the food and energy sectors, supplying industry with a green, progressive image … On the one hand it protects the forest; on the other it helps corporations lay claim to land not previously in their grasp. WWF helps sell the idea of voluntary resettlement to indigenous peoples,” Huismann wrote. 

Huismann detailed the fact that former executives at oil companies, like Shell, have gone on to serve in leadership at the WWF. A representative from the WWF denied any unethical behavior, but said that the organization has been more critical of the businesses with which it partners since the book was written. 

“It is not factual and does not present a representative picture of WWF,” the representative stated. “We don’t believe we ‘sold our soul’ at any point, but it is true that we are now much choosier about which interests we accept donations from and which interests we work with.”

Phasing Out Plastic

The WWF has acknowledged that most of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is abandoned fishing gear rather than small individual plastic items. But the organization has still set its sights on many so-called single-use plastics used by consumers in the United States–even though the U.S. properly manages almost all of its trash and researchers have established that developing countries are responsible for the vast majority of plastic pollution.

The WWF has supported the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, a project of the #BreakFreeFromPlastic coalition, urging Congress to limit single-use plastics in the U.S. The organization also encouraged Americans to “phase out” single-use plastics and replace them with more expensive alternatives. 

The organization targeted bottled water — a healthy option — in its anti-plastic campaign because water surpassed bottled soda as a more popular drinking option. The organization recommended that people stop opting for bottled water and to start carrying a reusable bottle. Water bottles and soda bottles are made from the same plastic, PET. PET is fully recyclable and it can be turned into another bottle or many other products, including playground equipment. 

Hunting For Me But Not For Thee

Unlike many conservation groups, the WWF is not completely opposed to hunting animals. The organization has partnered with sportsmen’s groups like Ducks Unlimited to encourage responsible hunting globally. This position has earned WWF scorn from other animal rights groups that oppose hunting. 

While supporting hunting is not a bad position, the WWF has been selective in who is allowed to hunt. For example, Juan Carlos, the King of Spain and an honorary president of WWF, sparked outrage after he went on an elephant hunt in 2012 despite WWF’s efforts to protect elephants. 

On the other hand, African tribes have been forbidden from hunting land their people had hunted for generations because WWF declared the land an animal refuge. It seems WWF supports hunting for wealthy members of its leadership, but not for tribal hunters who have been chased from their land in the name of conservation. 

Chummy With China

The WWF has been criticized for turning a blind eye to China’s human rights abuses and persistent pollution in exchange for an invitation to have offices in China. The organization has several offices in China and China has most of the world’s population of the WWF’s favorite animal, the panda. The WWF also has board members from China, including Wang Shi, the founder of China Vanke Co., a Chinese housing development company that has been given a seal of approval from the Chinese Communist Party. 

When asked about its position on China, a spokesman from the WWF said “WWF is not a political organization.” Another spokesman added, “As we’re sure you can appreciate, we cannot undertake conservation efforts everywhere.”

It’s odd because the WWF has no problem telling the U.S. government to ban single-use plastics or undertaking conservation efforts on land that has been home to tribes for centuries, but when it comes to China, WWF is not a “political organization.” Convenient.