Baka dancers pictured in east Cameroon in 2006. Photo: US Embassy
British rights group Survival International said this week it had convinced the OECD to investigate its claim that WWF had partially funded and provided logistical support to anti-poaching government “ecoguards” who have allegedly been systematically abusing the hunter-gatherer Baka people and other rainforest tribes for decades.
“Baka have been forced from large areas of their ancestral land and face violence from WWF-funded anti-poaching squads if they hunt, forage or visit sacred sites,” Survival said in a statement.
The NGO, which campaigns for tribal people's rights, alleged that the Baka had for more than 20 years faced abuse including “arrest and beatings, torture and even death” at the hands of the eco guards.
It submitted a formal complaint last February to the OECD's national office in Switzerland, where WWF is headquartered.
The OECD's Swiss branch agreed last month to look into the matter, according to a report on its website, which stressed that it would serve as a mediator between the two organisations and that its future conclusions “should not be construed as a judgment.”
This is the first time a non-profit organisation will be scrutinised under the OECD's guidelines, which are usually used to determine if commercial multinational entities are acting responsibly.
WWF meanwhile said in a statement Friday that it “takes any and all allegations of human rights violations extremely seriously.”
It said it “has worked strenuously to obtain improved recognition and rights for the Baka community” and conceded “there is clearly more work to be done to improve conditions of the Baka people.”
But it said it had always been open to dialogue on how to improve the situation and had been working to facilitate the employment of Baka ecoguards, and had been providing human rights training to ecoguards among other things.
“We therefore find it regrettable that Survival International has not accepted our offer to work together on the ground to address the complex social and political context facing the Baka in Cameroon,” it said.
WWF vowed to cooperate with the OECD efforts, but said it disagreed with “turning the OECD guidelines, designed for commercial enterprises, into a mechanism for resolving issues between two non-profit organisations.”
Survival chief Stephen Corry meanwhile alleged that WWF had “done nothing effective to address the concerns of the thousands of tribal people dispossessed and mistreated through its projects.”
“If WWF can't ensure those schemes meet UN and OECD standards, it simply shouldn't be funding them,” he said.