in Argentina, Indonesia

WWF scandal (part 1): Bears feeding on toxic corporate waste

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUpon

WWF, the world’s biggest environmental organisation, is under fire. On 23 June 2011, the German TV station ARD broadcast a documentary highlighting WWF’s cozy relationship with distinctly unsustainable companies like the genetically modified giant Monsanto and the rainforest destroying palm oil company Wilmar.

This week Global Witness published a report criticising WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network.

The only surprising thing is that it has taken so long for the WWF scandal to become public. The title of this post, “Bears feeding on toxic corporate waste,” is borrowed from an email that was circulated anonymously back in April 2003 (posted in full, for a little light relief, below). Sooner or later, the WWF scandal had to go public.

Today’s post is part 1 of the WWF scandal. It looks at the ARD documentary. Part 2 (coming soon) will look at the Global Witness report investigating WWF’s abysmal failure to rein in the logging industry.

The ARD documentary, “Der Pakt mit dem Panda”, was produced by Wilfried Huismann, a prize winning investigative journalist. It is posted below and can be viewed on ARD’s website (in German).


WWF – Silence of the Pandas von pandasilence

The film produced shock waves in Germany. But rather than facing up to the fact that these are serious criticisms, WWF Germany responded defensively, producing a “fact check” page on its website and a series of interviews with staff of WWF Germany who, surprise, surprise, tell us that they are doing everything they can to save the planet.

The film focusses in on WWF’s cozy relationships with corporate eco-nasties. Here are two particularly egregious examples, from the palm oil sector in Indonesia and the soy industry in Argentina.

In Indonesia, WWF has a partnership with Wilmar, a company that has converted vast areas of rainforest to monoculture oil palm plantations. WWF is quick to point out that its Memorandum of Understanding with Wilmar is to protect high conservation value forest and that it receives no money from Wilmar under this MoU. But as Nordin, who works with WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), points out in the film, WWF is in effect helping to greenwash an environmental disgrace:

“WWF says that you can produce palm oil in a sustainable way. Look around. How can that be sustainable? Nothing regrows here. The partnership with Wilmar improves the image of the firm, not their practices. I have no evidence that WWF is corrupt but it helps the industry to expand further.”

Predictably, Wilmar mentions the MoU in its 2007 Corporate Social Responsibility report as an example of how it implements its policies:

Wilmar upholds a policy of enhancing and maintaining flora and fauna species, and uses a flexible menu of conservation practices to protect natural habitats that are found to be rich in biodiversity.

There are two toe-curlingly embarrassing interviews in the documentary with WWF staff. In the first, a WWF Indonesia employee explains that she doesn’t really know what’s happening on the ground in the Wilmar plantation where Huismann filmed. In the second, Dörte Bieler, WWF Germany’s manager for “sustainable biomass”, is interviewed at an industry conference. No other NGOs took part in the conference. She tells Huismann that

“Our work is science-based. We always conduct a study before we have an opinion… And with this science-based evidence we have been able to achieve some things.”

But she is unable to point to a single thing that WWF has achieved through its cooperation with corporations. What’s important for WWF, according to Bieler, is that the NGO is “not just ridiculed, but accepted as a competent discussion partner.”

In Argentina, Huismann looks at WWF’s relationship with soy companies. The film includes an interview with Dr Hector Laurence,[*] the personification of the WWF scandal. In a World Business Council for Sustainable Development brochure he is quoted as saying,

“I am surprised to find that some people consider that if NGOs work with business they risk loosing [sic] objectivity. Efficient and transparent collaboration between these sectors is precisely the way to overcome this prejudice.”

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, since Laurence’s career included being head of a conservation organisation called Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina (WWF’s associate in Argentina), President of the Argentinean Asociation of Agrobusiness; and Vice-president of Pioneer Overseas Corporation, part of Dupont.

Laurence’s position on pesticides and GM soy is identical to that of the agribusinesses who have planted millions of hectares of GM soy in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

WWF’s response to the interview with Hector Laurence is particularly odious:

Hector Laurence was never with WWF, instead he worked with the associated partner organisation Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina (FVSA) until 2008.

In fact, the panda is very cuddly with FVSA. WWF’s website, under the headline “WWF-Argentina: Our solutions”, states that

Together, [WWF and FVSA] held joint campaigns, arrange global actions and receive financial backup for executing programs and projects.

The layout of FVSA’s website design is very similar to a previous WWF layout (WWF’s website has since been re-designed). FVSA’s url even includes the magic letters wwf and panda.org:

WWF-Argentina: wwfar.panda.org

WWF-International: wwf.panda.org

WWF was one of the founders of the Round Table on Responsible Soy. But the issue of genetically modified soy is not part of RTRS discussions. Members of the RTRS can use as much GM soy as they wish. WWF denies that it promotes GM crops, arguing that it remains in the Round Table on Responsible Soy in order to reduce the amount of GM soy planted. But the reality, whether WWF likes it or not, is that its presence in the RTRS is lending legitimacy to RTRS and thus to GM soy, monocultures and agribusiness. WWF knows this – it’s been pointed out to them many times.

Jason Clay of WWF-US [*] declined Huisman’s request for an interview. Instead the documentary included a 2010 presentation that Clay gave to the Global Harvest Initiative, an agribusiness lobbying initiative set up by Archer Daniels Midland, DuPont, John Deere and Monsanto. Among GHI’s consultative partners are Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and WWF. “We need to freeze the footprint of agriculture,” Clay says in his presentation. He explains that WWF is suggesting seven or eight things we need to work on to achieve this. “One is genetics, we have got to produce more with less,” he says, sounding just like an GM agribusiness lobbyist.

“It takes 15 years, at least and maybe longer as we go along, to bring a genetically engineered product to market. If we don’t start today, we’re already at 2025. The clock is ticking. We need to get moving. There is a sense of urgency.”

WWF’s response? “WWF Germany disagrees.” But the programme is not about WWF Germany. It is about WWF. And WWF admitted to the Süddeutsche newspaper that it has accepted money from Monsanto. Meanwhile, Jason Clay is not a paper pusher in some neglected outpost of the WWF empire. He is Senior Vice President for Market Transformation at WWF-US.

Not everything in Huismann documentary hits the target. A handful of WWF’s rebuttals appear plausible. But that does not make WWF’s response either acceptable or adequate. The documentary raises important issues about WWF’s cozy relationship with massive, destructive corporations. That WWF is not even interested in an intelligent and open discussion of these issues, let alone changing the way it works with destructive corporations, is a disgrace.


UPDATE and APOLOGY – 30 July 2011: I have deleted the descriptions of Hector Laurence and Jason Clay. Thanks to everyone who pointed out that the way these people look has nothing to do with the argument. I apologise for causing any offense to anyone and promise not to do that again.

Here, for the record, is Jason Clay’s presentation in full to the Global Harvest Initiative:

Return to text: Laurence ^^; Clay ^^.


Date: Thu, 3 Apr 2003 06:04:32 -0800 (PST)
From: Panda Person
Subject: Bears feeding on toxic corporate waste
 
Leading ecologists call for an ‘Urgent Global Coalition to save the Panda’
 
Grass roots environmental groups around the world must unite to save the Giant Panda (Wufwuf martinensis) from imminent extinction, say some of the world’s top ecological experts. The Giant Panda’s habitat (most of which is found near Gland, Switzerland) is being invaded by rapacious multinational companies intent on gaining control of this crucial environmental area. Recent reports indicate that the Giant Panda’s territory is now completely surrounded and heavily infiltrated by mining, logging, chemical and drug corporations.
 
Some scientists believe that, because of the ecological impacts caused by these companies, only a few Giant Pandas are likely to remain within a few years. As their native habitat has been destroyed, the bears have increasingly become dependent on scraps of food found at the corporations’ waste dumps. This change of diet causes Pandas to become bloated and listless, and also impairs their sight and hearing.
 
The Giant Panda’s population has actually been increasing in recent years, and the beasts have been seen roaming in areas where they have never previously been encountered. This has caused problems in itself. One leading bear expert has said that “The Pandas seem disorientated, lost. They’ve been stumbling around and trampling all over the habitat of other species. They’re constantly hungry and have eaten all the food needed by other, smaller, bears. Giant Pandas are lovable creatures in the right place but, to be honest, they’ve become a real pest. Ideally, they should be rounded up and put back into National Parks, where they will be less of a danger to themselves and others. Some people now feel that, if the rogue bears can’t be got rid of in any other way, then we may have to start shooting them.”
 
Increasingly, the Pandas are finding themselves in mortal battles with other species of bear. One renowned ecologist has reported that “The Giant Panda’s favourite tactic is to use its horribly distended size simply to crush other smaller bears to death. In some cases, the Pandas rip out the brains of the other bears and eat them. Very few smaller bears have been able to defend themselves so far, and mostly they just have to run away and hide. However, these kinds of ‘bear against bear’ clashes are likely to become more frequent and more bloody.”
 
Many scientists now believe that the Giant Panda’s recent population explosion will inevitably be followed by an equally dramatic, and possibly terminal, population crash. One expert (who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals) has said that “The Pandas appear to have lost the ability to feed themselves with fresh food in their own natural habitat. If the corporations decide to stop leaving their waste around for the bears to eat, as they eventually will, then the Panda population will plummet. This is the kind of phenomenon observed in some small-brained creatures such as lemmings, but never before with species that are supposedly as intelligent as Giant Pandas.”
 
Other sub-species of the Panda around the world are equally threatened. The population of the South African Panda, for example, is being held in captivity by the country’s two largest plantation companies, one of which is a world leader in the development of genetically modified ‘Frankenstein trees’. Some observers believe that it is only a matter of time before the companies slay the South African Pandas for their precious skins, which corporate executives value highly for use as camouflage when hunting down local environmentalists. Others believe that sinister experiments are underway in which the captive bears are also being genetically modified such that, in future, they would become dependent on leaves from the company’s bio-engineered eucalyptus trees.
 
In Canada and Sweden, some of the most controversial logging companies have been seen feeding the local Pandas. There is widespread speculation that the food is either laced with poison or possibly with a strong tranquillising drug which will render the Pandas helpless and immobile. Canadian corporate executives regularly force captive Pandas to perform humiliating and degrading dances at international events, just for the sake of public entertainment.
 
In Australia, the huge Vino Tinto mining company has bought the entire local population of Pandas. It has been reported that Tinto has also been feeding the Australian Pandas with huge quantities of food spiked with a highly addictive drug, and has set the doped animals to work in guarding the company’s mines.
 
In the US, corporate executives have successfully disguised themselves as Pandas in order to infiltrate the local population of bears. Some local observers see this as part of a cunning long-term plan to ensure that future generations of Pandas never learn from their parents how to use either their teeth or claws.
 
Ecologists believe that these problems are part of a worldwide pattern. However, the fate of other Panda sub-species is not entirely known. A spokeswoman for the newly formed ‘Save the Panda Coalition’ said “We suspect that Pandas from Japan to Brazil, and Germany to Indonesia may have already been captured by multinational corporations, and are being forced-fed with contaminated food. We urgently need more research on this by local experts.”
 
Summing up the tragic situation, a bear expert has said that “Some Pandas seem to have escaped the clutches of the big industrialists but, really, there’s nowhere else for them to go. They will probably just die of starvation. We need a global effort to get the corporations out of the Giant Panda’s habitat, and to free all the sub-species now being held in captivity. This has to be a top priority for the world environment and conservation movement. Any genetically modified and mutant Pandas will probably have to be destroyed, along with those that have become totally dependent on corporate waste, but this is a price worth paying if it helps to protect the species as a whole.”

 

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUpon

Leave a Reply

43 Comments

  1. This is really lazy reporting. You’re like the blind men feeling an elephant. In this case you’ve stuck your finger up the elephant’s arse and concluded that it’s entirely composed of sh*t. There is a bigger picture and a more interesting one, which you might see if you weren’t cherrypicking evidence out of context to support a very one-sided argument. KG

  2. @Kattato Garu (#1) – So you think that the fact that a WWF-US Senior Vice President supports GM crops isn’t worth commenting on? Or that the Round Table for Responsible Soy accepts GM soy as “responsible”? Or that WWF accepts money from Monsanto? Or that it keeps quiet about Wilmar’s record of clearing rainforests to make way for oil palm monocultures – while other NGOs are actively campaigning against Wilmar?

    Of course that’s not all that WWF does. It helps greenwash illegal timber, for example, through its Global Forest and Trade Network – but more on that in a future post.

  3. Hi Chris,

    There is plenty of evidence of oil palm plantations replacing natural forests and peatlands in Indonesia and Malaysia, and yet to back up your claim about Wilmar destroying such areas you cite a Facebook page. This doesn’t exactly help your own case I’m afraid, especially when accusing WWF of precisely the same thing – failing to provide evidence to back up their assertions.

    Do you have any real evidence of Wilmar’s involvement with deforestation and land grabs? I’d love to see it. Thanks.

  4. Hi Chris, I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with WWF. Some decisions it has taken are questionable, and some people it employs are incompetent (namely, the ones who can’t explain their own policies and acheivements…) So it’s good that there are people keeping a watch on them. But childish ad-hominem attacks (double-chinned besuited nimrods anyone?) is a pretty weak place to be arguing from. A couple of observations: 1) since >95% of soy is GM, can you really affect social and environmental change just by talking to the 5% (i.e. the ones with no power or money)? and 2) if you want to attack palm oil companies, fine by me but maybe you should focus your rage on the really awful ones that have made no public commitment to transparency or improving their practices, rather than the ones that have made demonstrable progress through open dialogues with NGOs and local communities. Good luck on both counts.

  5. @Felix Whitton (#3) – It’s not just any Facebook page – it’s Robin Wood’s facebook page. Robin Wood has been campaigning for several years against Wilmar’s destructive operations in Indonesia (and Robin Wood’s website seems to be under reconstruction).

    Here are some reports with more information about Wilmar’s operations in Indonesia (the recent Greenomics report accuses companies owned by Wilmar of operating in Kalimantan without the required approvals):

    Policy, practice, pride and prejudice: Review of legal, environmental and social practices of oil palm plantation companies of the Wilmar Group in Sambas District, West Kalimantan (Indonesia), Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), Lembaga Gemawan, KONTAK Rakyat Borneo, June 2007.

    How Unilever palm oil suppliers are burning up Borneo, Greenpeace, April 2008.

    Norway Needs to Walk the Walk, Divest Holdings in Giant Palm Oil Groups Operating Illegally in Borneo, Greenomics Indonesia, March 2011.

    And a link to a short article:

    Orangutans at grave risk in Wilmar’s concession, Orangutan Outreach, 2010.

    And, in August 2009, the International Finance Corporation’s Compliance Advisory Ombudsman found that the IFC was acting in breach of its own standards when it gave loans to Wilmar. You can read about that on REDD-Monitor: Will the World Bank ever learn?.

  6. @Kattato Garu (#4) – You are allowing yourself to get distracted by appearances (which you could argue that I did). But after hearing what the two of them said in this film my head was going to explode if I didn’t let off a bit of steam somewhere.

    I agree that it would have been an ad hominem attack against Jason Clay and Hector Laurence if the only argument I’d used was that they are double-chinned, overweight and suited. But that’s just a description of their appearance. I described them as nimrods because of what they said, not because of their appearance.

    1) Soy. No one is saying that WWF and other NGOs should not talk to the corporations that produce GM soy. But a few ground rules before doing so would be useful. Don’t accept money from them under any circumstances would probably need to be high up on the list. Don’t employ people who are from the industry would follow shortly afterwards. Sitting in a Round Table with the industry in a forum where GM soy accepted as OK isn’t going to help prevent the expansion of GM soy. And if WWF is genuinely opposed to GMOs, what is Jason Clay up to when he announces WWF’s support for GM crops?

    2) Palm oil. The trouble is that WWF isn’t putting enough pressure on corporations to change. It’s too easy for corporations to start a dialogue with WWF – for example through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. One reason corporations do this is to deflect criticism without having to implement too many meaningful changes. Can you point to any demonstrable progress that Wilmar has made? Even if you can, of course, there is no way of knowing whether that progress was a result of pressure from NGOs like Greenpeace and Robin Wood, or whether it was a result of cuddling up to the panda.

    In the case of Golden Agri-Resources it was a Greenpeace campaign that led to changes (or at least promised changes – which from a Sinar Mas company is something of a breakthrough). More about that soon on REDD-Monitor.

  7. Similar to the Roundtable on soy, is the Bonsucro certification for sugarcane products (mostly ethanol), recently accepted by the European Union. This initiative is PRESIDED by a representative of WWF http://www.bonsucro.com/welcome.html.
    The first Brazilian / international joint venture to receive this certification is Raizen (Cosan/Shell), which was denounced by the public ministry for producing sugar cane on indigenous lands.
    But then again, the Bonsucro certification does not mention at all, any where, the indigenous peoples and their rights …
    Paul

  8. Chris,

    1 comment, 1 request….

    1. I think you have already acknowledged that making scathing personal remarks about the appearance of anyone is incredibly distasteful and is simply poor journalism. At risk of sounding like a school teacher, you’ve acknowledged it is wrong, but please don’t do it again.

    2. Trying to stop deforestation is really, really hard and we all know that. If there was a simple solution your blog wouldn’t exist and our planet would be in better shape. Going forward- and I know I am not the only one that feels this way- it would be great to see more focus on alternatives and workable, viable solutions rather than slamming every initiative that lands in your inbox. We have a massive problem on our hands and although we all know how important debate, transparency and criticism are, it would be incredibly refreshing to see you offer the odd piece of encouragement to all those people trying so very hard to make a difference.

  9. @Iain (#9) – My favourite comment about this post (so far) is this tweet from @bolesfin: “Chris Lang @reddmonitor jumps on opportunity to denounce WWF’s corporate ties, stance on GM, stuffy dresscode & physique.” Thus summing up my 2,000 word post in 18 words.

    I’m delighted that you acknowledge that trying to stop deforestation is complicated and difficult. Unfortunately, while many people know that, it doesn’t stop others from saying that all we need to do is make forests worth more standing than logged. Or that REDD is the low hanging fruit. Or that the big problem is finding somewhere between US$17-30 billion a year to reduce deforestation by half by 2030. And since governments won’t put that sort of money on the table we need the private sector to cough up – which means carbon trading.

    You’re not the first person to request more “good news” stories on REDD-Monitor. I’ve not done much of this so far because there are so many problems with REDD, and these problems raise issues that need discussing. It’s pretty much a full time job to keep up with them. However, I’m hoping to do more interviews on REDD-Monitor in the near future and hopefully these will include interviews with people working on “alternatives and workable, viable solutions”.

  10. Chris, it is not that complicated at all, to protect a rain forest area,
    the problem is that legal logging comes under the jurisdiction of the World Bank…………..and the process to protect forests by originating to any ISO standard is unreasonable and most certainly judged and commentated with bias..

    In all the smoke and mirrors of protecting rain forests comes the joker of all REDD+ ( so far ) its name is purely a master of deception and misinformation that is the attempted worse case of “land tenure thief ” of this planets history.

  11. from WWF: the money from Monsanto issue. WWF published how much they received. on the order of 100,000k over 20 years. That includes matching of their employee contributions. Which is about 100 times less than what Bank of America gives to the republican party. Is that really greenwashing?

    The Wilmar concession. Whatever was shown in the movie wasn’t anywhere near where they said they were, that’s simply lying. And that was proven with satellite imagery, which I find rather “plausible.” The 4000 hectares or whatever of forest in the plantation is 4000 more hectares than any other company NOT operating under the round table would have left standing. Are you saying, like in the movie that we should just forget the round table and just let people continue to deforest Borneo as they please? I take it you never eat oreo cookies – which have palm oil in them. so does a lot of the junk food you probably gorge on late night when you are busy copying and pasting other’s people’s lame articles.

  12. ok, let’s try one more time to comment.
    The only fact I can see in this article, is that redd-monitor.org recycled someone else’s garbage reporting.
    First, I think the GFTN and any other criticism is ultimately necessary, timely, and will produce a thoughtful discussion and critical response. No one should be immune from criticism but there are limits here, you can’t just make shit up. And I hope this open discussion that you call for is more eloquent than what was on the wwf.de site, and facebook and twitter after the ARD documentary – or is that what are referring to when you say “WWF is not even interested in an intelligent and open discussion of these issues?”  A one-sided blind and damning article with no underlying research or suggestion of alternatives is not open discussion.
    The statements in the ARD film that are recycling in this post are nothing more than slander – if I were to say that Chris Lang has a gambling problem and drowns puppies on weekends would that be responsible blogging? no. I would have thought you could have brought a more thoughful, credible angle, but instead you so quickly dismiss that the WWF response “appears plausible” which means you haven’t read them, or you don’t really care to and you are closing the discussion, showing that no one can answer back, and whoever said whatever first is right, no matter what the content.
    You could offer a potential solution or alternative to these issues? no. did you try to verify any of these fact presented? nope

  13. @ Chris Lang: ‘Palm oil. The trouble is that WWF isn’t putting enough pressure on corporations to change … Can you point to any demonstrable progress that Wilmar has made? Even if you can, of course, there is no way of knowing whether that progress was a result of pressure from NGOs like Greenpeace and Robin Wood, or whether it was a result of cuddling up to the panda.

    In the case of Golden Agri-Resources it was a Greenpeace campaign that led to changes (or at least promised changes – which from a Sinar Mas company is something of a breakthrough). More about that soon on REDD-Monitor.’

    On the first point, you could say that WWF walks a fine line in initiatives such as RSPO between putting pressure on corporations and gaining market share. So far the RSPO boasts 40-50% of the palm oil market ad 8% of global palm oil trade certified, which is not bad in 2 years when one looks at how slow the FSC has been to certify forests.

    (You could also argue that WWF does put pressure on corporations – such as APRIL – through initiatives such as Eyes on the Forest: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=232475882426)

    However, the devil will be in the details, and as you say there is no evidence yet that Wilmar has changed its practices. We’ll see quite soon (2015 if I’m not mistaken, judging by their commitments) how the Wilmars, Unilevers, Nestles et al. have done in reducing the impact of their operations.

    On the second point, yes it was a Greenpeace campaign that led to a change in heart from GAR. If only there were many more Greenpeaces, Robin Woods, RANs, FoEs etc to put international pressure on the bad boys. BUT … the effect of such campaigns will only be long-lasting if you then have other organisations – such as WWF and The Forest Trust – to go in and do the dirty work of turning those corporate commitments into action. That is the really difficult job, and it isn’t sexy, and it isn’t quick – but do you really think it’s possible to make any permanent change without working with these guys?

  14. @felix

    The Wilmar concession shown in the movie is following the HCV (High Conservation Value) guidelines – whihc recommends setting aside pre-defined valuable areas as forest. The business as usual practice, and what everyone else is doping is to just clear everything. How is that not changing any practices?

  15. And that’s exactly right, there’s a good cop bad cop way of doing things in the environmental world. WWF is not climbing on buildings or using out-there scare tactics – the more extreme organizations do this, and then WWF can present itself as a more reasonable partner to talk to and work with.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14277101

  16. GFTN, RSPO, RTRS, FSC, Bonsucro, Mining Stewardship Council, Marine Stewardship Council….Let’s face it, these are all varieties of the same basic WWF Mafia-like protection racket, that goes like this: “Pay us to join the club and we’ll protect you; fail to pay the protection money, and other gangs (like Greenpeace) will prey on you, and they are much less compromising than we are. We won’t ask much, if anything, of you; just keep paying the money…”.

    The tragedy in all this is that the only thing that groups like Greenpeace are achieving with their high profile and very clever campaigns (apart from some no doubt valuable self-publicity and thus supporter income) is to drive their target companies into the arms of the various WWF protection rackets. Perhaps that’s even convenient for them, because it means they don’t have to think of any real policy solutions, and can give up bashing their target of the moment as soon as the company offers to go FSC, RSPO, RTRS, GFTN, or whatever.

    Thank goodness Global Witness has had the guts to come out and expose this horrible confluence of interests between organisations that are supposedly trying to protect the planet from destruction.

  17. @ A C

    If I recall correctly, somewhere in one of those documentaries WWF makes the claim that they base their policies and programmes on solid science. So what I would like to know is whether the 4,000 hectares supposedly set aside as HCV by Wilmar (under the WWF-backed RSPO system) is in fact a viable ecosystem, taking into account particularly that it will be surrounded by no doubt pesticide-soaked palm oil plantations, and presumably will have hundreds of palm workers supplementing their miserable incomes with some hunting and logging whenever they can? Was this 4,000 ha the ONLY HCV in the concession? What happened to the rest?

  18. @a c (#14) – I don’t think accepting money from Monsanto is in itself greenwashing. Neither is the amount of money the issue (although you could argue that the more money involved the worse it would be). The greenwashing part is WWF’s acceptance of GM soy through its involvement in the RTRS. It’s not just me that thinks this is a problem. Earlier this year, Prof. Dr. Hartmut Vogtmann of the Deutscher Naturschutzring (German League for Nature and the Environment) wrote to WWF International calling for WWF’s immediate withdrawal from the RTRS because of the social and environmental impacts of GM soy. His letter is available here: Call for WWF to withdraw from RTRS – from major German environmental organisation. There are various links from that webpage to more information.

    I’m not saying that palm oil companies should just be allowed to continue to deforest Borneo (and neither is the documentary).

    @a c (#15) – Near the start of the article I wrote “Today’s post is part 1 of the WWF scandal. It looks at the ARD documentary.” So, yes, my post is based on the ARD documentary. You describe the post as a “one-sided blind and damning article with no underlying research or suggestion of alternatives,” and you point out that an article is not in itself an open discussion. You’re right – but it has generated quite a lot of comments, some of which are interesting. And it’s in English whereas so far much of the discussion has been in German.

    I did read the WWF Germany responses, otherwise I would not be able to write that some of WWF Germany’s responses appear plausible. I accepted that not everything in Huismann documentary hits the target. Nevertheless the documentary raises some important points that I think are worth discussing. I attempted to raise these issues in this post.

  19. @D Witness (#20) – WWF’s response to the “80 hectare” claim in the film is here: “Annex 4: Beleg für einen deutlich größeren Restwald auf der Plantage PT Rimba Harapan.”

    There’s a video in English (with German subtitles). And there are two satellite images of the concession, here and here.

    According to WWF, the total plantation area is 13,790 hectares. The area of HCV forest is 4,961 hectares or 36%. This is a lot more than 80 hectares. But it is not all in one area. Some parts of the HCV forest are quite narrow. Edge effects could have a serious impact on the forest ecosystem. The photos indicate that some of the forest is already degraded. (You can read this two ways: 1, that it’s good that degraded forest was included as HCV forest and not just bulldozed, or 2, that it’s too degraded to survive long once it’s surrounded by oil palm plantations.) So your question about whether this is a viable ecosystem is spot on.

    Incidentally, it is the same question that was raised in the documentary (despite the fact that they seem to have got the area wrong and claimed that the plantation was certified, which it is not). Huismann visited one small area of forest that had been spared as HCV. Two orangutans lived in that remaining area of forest. But neither the orangutans nor that specific area of forest stand much chance of surviving in the long run.

  20. To come back to a point I was making yesterday – from what I gather, at least some of the companies who have engaged in RSPO have been making genuine progress in their social and environmental impact, firstly, by doing what they can within existing plantations like paying their workers a decent wage, giving them proper housing, training and protective equipment, and restoring trees and native vegetation in riparian buffer zones etc, and secondly, by avoiding really sensitive areas for expansion (which is arguably much, much more beneficial for biodiversity). It might take a while, but there are some good things happening.

    The REALLY bad guys are those who have signed up to RSPO and are making claims about how green they are, but using their membership (without any actual certification commitments) to give cover to terrible environmental destruction. Case in point: Herakles Farms in Cameroon, CLAIMS it’s going to be RSPO certified, and CLAIMS it has done an HVC assessment, but there’s no evidence of any of it… It’s not even filed any certification intent with RSPO. And… it’s about to bulldoze 70,000 Ha of Africa’s most biodiverse forest, right next to Korup National Park. And all the while, the Blackstone bankers in the US who own the Herakles development are covering their tracks with the clever ploy aof using a registered NGO called “All for Africa”, claiming they’re going to “Palm Out Poverty”… funded by palm oil profits. That’s devious. Look it up. Almost no one’s campaigning against these guys. And they are operating from the USA!!! Seventy Thousand Hectares of primary tropical forest!!! Run a piece on that, Chris.

  21. @A C (#18) – Good cop, bad cop sounds great. But what happens when one of the cops is accepting money from the company it’s supposed to be policing?

  22. @Kattato Garu (#23) – Thanks for the information about Herakles Farms in Cameroon. I’ll see what I can dig out. (By the way, as one of the founder members of RSPO, shouldn’t WWF be kicking up a fuss that an RSPO member companies is about to bulldoze 70,000 hectares of primary rainforest?)

  23. “By the way, as one of the founder members of RSPO, shouldn’t WWF be kicking up a fuss that an RSPO member companies is about to bulldoze 70,000 hectares of primary rainforest?”

    Certainly they should. It puts all the rest of RSPO in disrepute. I don’t know if they know. Probably, neither does RSPO. But since we’re talking about the roles of NGOs, this would be ideal territory for Friends of the Earth, or Greenpeace, or… you. Basically, it’s been under the radar except for a low key campaign from Rettet den Regenwald. It deserves more press.

    http://www.rainforest-rescue.org/mailalert/729/cameroon-palm-oil-project-threatens-people-and-the-rainforest

  24. Paul, you say Bonsucro does not take into account indigenous people. It’s in the very first Principle 1.1 which covers land tenure and land use rights……

    No standard is perfect but isn’t it better than business as usual?

  25. @Felix

    As this posting is about the transparency (or lack of it) in the relationship between conservationists and large planet-damaging corporations, do you think it might have been appropriate to set out your own credentials in this regard?

    I am referring to the close relationship between your own organisation, Synchronicity Earth, the Zoological Society of London, and Wilmar. Specifically that Synchronicity Earth is closely knit with ZSL; that the chief of Synchronicity Earth’s Advisory Committee is Dr Jonathon Baillie, whose daytime job is Head of Conservation Programmes at ZSL, and whose programme on oil-palm in Indonesia is funded by….Wilmar.

    Given the context of this discussion, the fact that Wilmar and all the others have until *2015* to demonstrate their improved practices has a horribly familiar ring to it. The origin of WWF’s Global Forest and Trade Network was an initiative called the ‘1995 Club’ – whose timber trading members committed to move to only ‘sustainably produced’ products by 1995. When 1995 came and went (and none of the members had achieved the target) the name was changed to the ‘2000 Group’. When 2000 came and went…the target date was dropped altogether, and the GFTN emerged. How many of the original 1995 Group are members of the GFTN and still haven’t achieved sustainability? Perhaps WWF will tell us.

    Sadly, your comments about the RSPO are well off the mark. The problem with the FSC, as I understand it, has been precisely that it has tried to expand the certified logging area much faster than real changes on the ground would justify, and has cut every corner in the process. The fact that RSPO has expanded at such a fast rate should be a cause for concern and suspicion, not celebration.

  26. One point that has not been made here is that, amazingly, a company as big and destructive as Golden Agri Resources (Sinar Mas) has apparently, in one decision, gone far, far further than the WWF suppoted RSPO has done to date.

    What does that say about the RSPO and WWF’s support of it?

    It seems the RSPO was not progressive enough for Indonesia’s biggest oil palm deforestation company (presumably because they knew GReenpeace do not support the RSPO because it will not agree to a carbon standard).

    Whether GAR will actually follow through on their public pledges under The Forest Trust (TFT) agreement is yet to be seen. There is always the obvious danger that GAR will just sell the concessions deemed to be over 35 tons of CO2 per hectare, possibly to RSPO members, and then buy some “degraded” lands made available by the Indonesian government, and emerge as a jolly green giant that makes all the RSPO members look like GAR did last year.

    Supposedly the RSPO members would love to get their hands on some of GAR’s undeveloped concessions. Watch out TFT, dont put your heads too far above the parapet and rely on GAR to protect it…

  27. Hi Papua, re – “Golden Agri Resources (Sinar Mas) has apparently, in one decision, gone far, far further than the WWF suppoted RSPO has done to date”
    What has it done?

  28. @ A-zed-and-two-noughts:

    Well done on your fine investigative skills. A real case of putting two and two together and coming up with five.

    The organisation I work for works closely with ZSL. True. Wilmar fund ZSL (for a very small part of their global conservation programmes, I should point out). Also true.

    So what – you think that somehow means I am unwilling or unable to criticise Wilmar? Please, stop chasing shadows. All I was asking was for Mr Lang to provide some concrete proof that Wilmar were involved with deforestation. I think if people are going to throw around accusations of that severity the least they can do is back them up with credible evidence. It does the cause a disservice and plays into the hands of the bad guys themselves if we, the supposed upholders of the truth, can’t even get our own facts straight.

    And as it happens, my organisation works with ZSL because we think they are one of the most effective conservation charities around. We also fund Greenpeace and Global Witness – the very people that have so effectively been holding WWF to account over the GFTN.

    And at least I don’t masquerade under a pseudonym. Perhaps Mr Zed could enlighten us as to his own vested interests?

  29. @ Kattato Garu:
    According to TFT and GAR, GAR have comitted to what the two organisations are calling a “Forest Conservation Policy” (FCP).

    According to TFT’s website, GAR’s FCP:

    “aims to ensure that GAR has no deforestation footprint. The FCP focuses on there being no development on High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests; no development on High Conservation Value (HCV) forest areas; no development on peat lands; and to have free, prior and informed consent from indigenous and local communities and compliance with all relevant laws and National Interpretation of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Principles and Criteria.”

    They have, admittedly provisionally, decided to define “high carbon stock” forests as those that hold more than 35 tC/ha. http://www.tft-forests.org/news/item.asp?n=13078

    As far as I am aware (but please corect me if I am wrong), there is no provision in the RSPO on carbon stocks, and RSPO members, particularly the national palm oil lobby groups in Malaysia (MPOC) and Indonesia (GAPKI) have blocked the development of a carbon policy for the RSPO.

    That GAR have included a carbon stock provision relating to a limit on their expansion into existing concessions does seem to be going far further than the RSPO, particulary of they: 1. implement it properly (which I suggest may not happen in my post above), and 2. also implement the P&C of the RSPO.

  30. More news of this sort need to get to us IPs, where we do not have access to newspapers, radio station. So we are easily fooled as the states make sure we do not get appropiate information.

  31. @Chris Lang – thanks for the reports, I missed the earlier ones so apologies. Greenomics are doing some excellent work in holding Wilmar and others like them to account.

  32. The scathing personal descriptions may ruin your reputation as a journalist and give environmentalists a bad name.

  33. @James Berk (#37) – Thanks for this. I deleted the personal descriptions and apologised four months ago. See the note here.

    I think WWF is doing far more than I am in giving environmentalists a bad name…

  34. I concur with Chris.

    WWF is a well known corporate front group for multi-national neoliberal terrorists co-opting the environmental cause. This Wrong Kind of Green is what gives environmentalists a bad name. This is partly due to a feckless public incapable of independent thinking and skeptical inquiry.

  35. All your article does is belittle attempts by individuals to stop the rampant deforestation in South America but more urgently in South East Asia – in the hope of conserving countless endangered species whilst putting a stop to human rights violations occuring in rural villages. Get some perspective on all the angles of this issue!

  36. @Asha (#40) – Actually the article questions “WWF’s cozy relationship with massive, destructive corporations”. WWF is an organisation, not an individual. I’m not convinced that the RSPO (for example) is either stopping deforestation or putting a stop to human rights violations.