Is the Panda eating its own children?

It’s this time of the year, when people think about what presents to buy or where to donate. While I’m not going to tell you where you should spend your extra money, I tell you to whom you’d rather not donate anything at all.

I remember how, when a kid, all those colourful magazines would drop into our mailbox before Christmas, each of them offering nicer things to buy. In our household it was the one from WWF that usually gained most attention: all the beautiful toy animals, the claims of being natural and all that, it was just the perfect match. Consequently, we kids spent all our hard-earned money[1] on buying from its catalogue or donating to WWF (at that time still called World Wildlife Foundation[2]).

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I started to question the WWF. At that time an article saying that many country representations of WWF (among them Switzerland) already had too much money to use it meaningfully and that therefore they were sharing 50% of the money raised from “street-collection” with their fundraising partners, made me think twice. Considering that most of the people standing out there in the bitter cold and begging for money were paid pretty badly, it didn’t feel right to me that WWF was further fund-raising while it already had “too much money” only to share the profits with sinister partner organisations. That was simply fraud on the donators.

Over the years and from professional mandates with various employees at WWF[3] I learned that also the actual project work could considerably be questioned. To me the shocking content of “PandaLeaks – The Dark Side of the WWF[4]” first published in 2012 in German version did thus not come at such a surprise. What Wilfried Huismann is describing in his 244 pages of detailed investigation are practices that I could observe in my daily work. As an example there was this WWF representative (in the management board of his country office) with whom we all struggled to work. He would reply to important and very detailed emails containing four clear questions (underlined and in bold letters to make them stick out and facilitate his work) with “sure, go ahead” or “yes”. Later, in a conversation during an early morning flight that last no more than 45 minutes, I figured why: talking to me he was constantly working on his blackberry and when the plane landed, he quickly got up, put the blackberry in his pocket, and said: “That’s how I work. Before even arriving at my office, I have done all my emails.”

It’s interesting to know that WWF tried hard to first prohibit and after having lost a first battle in court, fought with a horde of lawyers all paid by donator’s money, block further publications of Huismann’s book and film[5]. Is that how WWF translates “welcoming constructive criticism” or is it that a possible translation into English could have harmed the Panda’s business model? What about the “wrong claims”? For example the infamous figure in the book, Héctor Laurence who WWF repeatedly claimed had never worked for them and who still appears on their website as Deputy Director Argentina?

In Australia, it is interesting to note that while WWF prides itself for “working with leading seafood businesses to help them make the transition towards sourcing and stocking only ecologically sustainable products”, what it actually does is equipping its seafood partners with a framework to do business as usual with the slight difference that it’s approved by WWF and hence perceived as “green” by consumers.

label coleslabel john westDo these labels say it all or nothing?
How would you feel about the wording “product can come from anywhere”?
(Photos: globalvisonremixed.wordpress.com)

While sustainability is all about transparency and accountability, WWF Australia is likely the only assessor on the planet that doesn’t publish its assessment methodology! When asking the seafood team of WWF Australia why its partners Coles and Simplot didn’t even care to properly declare “place of origin” on their products, I was told that they did and it had been taken care of for a long time:

seafood labelingExtract from an email statement from WWF
(Source: globalvisonremixed.wordpress.com)

So much as regards competence. In the meantime vulnerable sharks are being fished in South Africa, dolphins slaughtered in Peru, shrimp farmed in India, shipped to and processed in Malaysia, all to be imported into Australia and sold as “Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients”.

market partnershipsExtract from an email statement from WWF
(Source: globalvisonremixed.wordpress.com)

Is that what you like people do with your donations: green-washing dirty business, so their partners can continue selling you products from dubious sources? Will you have bad labeled, illegal (but official) traded products for Christmas?

If you really care for pandas and want to make a change then you’d better not feed the Panda alias panda.org. What once had started as a fund for wildlife and then mutated into the “World Wide Fund”, has become a real monster, one that using tools of its partners Monsanto, Coca-Cola and Co eats up its children rather than protecting them.


[1] In contrast to other children I had to earn my money by „hard“ labour and wasn’t just given it, spending long hours working in the winterly cold forest together with my grandfather earning fifty cents for half and one dollar for a full day of work– a practise that is now condemned by WWF and other NGOs as child labour in developing countries.

[2] It was consequently transformed from “World Wildlife Foundation” into “World Wide Fund (for Nature)” (in 1986), likely to demonstrate that it had completely lost its connection to nature  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Fund_for_Nature

[3] I’m not saying that all employees at WWF are unprofessional or lazy. I also met very enthusiastic and good people at WWF.

[4] Orig. „Schwarzbuch WWF

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About blaubear

Born in 1973 in a small village in rural Switzerland and into a society largely dominated by cows (not only was the human population of one-hundred-and-forty outnumbered by them, but politics driven by unreasonable subsidies for diary products) I was connected with nature from early age on. Observing nature on one hand and the deficiencies of a dysfunctional Swiss agricultural policy with farmers that had lost connection to the land that provided their income on the other, I soon started to question society and the meaning of life. Suffering also under a farcical public education I developed curiosity to discover on my own. That was how I soon learned that little of what I had been taught was true. Skepticism and interaction with people from for me new cultures fostered my interest for the world and eagerness to leave a life shaped by federalistic layman-ship. At the age of twenty-three I hit the road for the first time, an event that later translated into passion. Traveling between cultures has since become part of my life. At the age of thirty-three I finally realized my dream and did a degree in Environmental Engineering from which I graduated in 2009, only to leave Switzerland once more for my "real home" Spain. Unfortunately, the stay was a short one: a couple of months later I was offered a job in Southeast Asia, where I worked and also lived (with some interruptions, e.g. I live in Melbourne since late 2012) ever since. Having worked for a Japanese company earlier in my life, I soon felt captured again by Asian culture and thinking which makes a lovely contrast to my European heritage. My journey through different countries and cultures has taught me that regardless of how different our thinking and values are, no matter what approaches we take, we all can learn from each other. And if we are open enough to see the common instead of pointing out the differences, then we have a chance to live in harmony and peace: Life is all about integration, not exclusion! It's an old wisdom that "knowledge is power", as such I never get tired of being around new people, having interesting talks, and reading lots of good books. I hope that my blog can contribute to the conversation.
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2 Responses to Is the Panda eating its own children?

  1. blaubear says:

    To all my dear readers: “Schwarzbuch WWF” is finally available in English version: “PandaLeaks – The Dark Side of the WWF”: http://www.pandaleaks.org/book/
    Have a look, buy and enjoy. We need more transparency if sustainable development should become more than just an empty promise!

  2. Pingback: Is international development doing the right thing? | Ideas for a greener environment, a fairer society and a future driven by sustainability

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