The Charity Commission has said it will “ask serious questions” of WWF UK after the charity submitted a serious incident report related to alleged human rights abuses.
On Monday, online news platform BuzzFeed published findings from its year-long investigation across six countries into the World Wide Fund for Nature – an international charity headquartered in Switzerland and associated with WWF UK.
BuzzFeed reported that the charity supported anti-poaching units that whipped villagers with belts, attacked them with machetes, beat them unconscious with bamboo sticks, sexually assaulted them, shot and murdered them.
WWF said that while many of BuzzFeed’s assertions did not match its “understanding of events”, it has nevertheless commissioned an independent review into the allegations.
On Wednesday, the Charity Commission confirmed that WWF UK had submitted a serious incident report to the regulator and that it would be contacting the charity “as a matter of urgency”.
A spokesperson for the Commission said: “We are aware of reports relating to World Wide Fund for Nature – an organisation associated with the registered charity WWF UK.
“The appalling atrocities and human rights abuses that have been alleged here are at odds with everything we associate with charity. We are clear that the way in which a charity carries out its work is as important as what it does.
“WWF UK has submitted a serious incident report to the Commission in connection with these allegations. We will be contacting the charity as a matter of urgency to ask serious questions about its processes and due diligence. We will expect the trustees to respond robustly to these concerns.”
A WWF spokesperson said it reported BuzzFeed's allegations to the Commission on 27 February.
They said: "All allegations will be part of an independent review, which will look at specific allegations, as well as governance."
Call on government to act
Since BuzzFeed’s report on Monday, MPs including former development secretary Priti Patel have called on the Department for International Development (DfID) to investigate whether UK taxpayers’ money went towards the programmes criticised in the report.
A spokesperson for DfID told BuzzFeed it welcomed the review commissioned by the charity, which the Guardian reported will be undertaken by law firm Kingsley Napley.
Elsewhere, celebrity explorer Ben Fogle announced he had suspended his ambassadorial role at the charity with immediate effect following the allegations.
BuzzFeed subsequently reported on Tuesday that the charity commissioned a report in 2015, which implicated WWF in violence against indigenous people in Cameroon, but never came to light.
It said the 2015 report was prepared by an indigenous expert hired by WWF to review its operations in Cameroon, who found staff there were “gravely concerned” about the abuses they were witnessing.
In 2017, WWF rejected a report from campaigning group Survival International, which claimed that it employed “eco-guards” that committed “widespread human rights abuses” when evicting tribes from ancestral lands in the Congo Basin.
Yesterday, Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, said BuzzFeed was uncovering a “horror show involving murder, gang-rape and cover-ups”.
Corry criticised WWF's selection of Kingsley Napley as investigators, saying that the firm “knows nothing about indigenous people”.
He said: “WWF seems pathologically incapable of acknowledging its complicity in human rights atrocities.
“It’s known for years that the paramilitary units it funds have beaten, tortured and killed, and its response is always the same – a smokescreen of meaningless promises of action, and then carry on as before.”
He added: “WWF needs a comprehensive, radical change of direction.”