LONDON, April 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s charity watchdog launched an investigation into the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) UK on Thursday, citing concerns that its grants had funded human rights abuses overseas.
The inquiry follows a year-long investigation in six countries by BuzzFeed News published in March that found WWF had provided salaries, training and weapons to paramilitary forces implicated in atrocities against indigenous communities.
In response, WWF said that it was commissioning an independent review to look into the cases raised in the story as its policies aimed to safeguard the wellbeing of indigenous people and local communities. Britain’s charity regulator said that it had opened a regulatory compliance case into the organisation’s British arm following reports relating to WWF International.
“We will comply fully with any Charity Commission process,” a spokeswoman for WWF told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The high-profile global conservation giant, founded in 1961 and based in Switzerland, works in about 100 countries. Its ambassadors include British TV naturalist David Attenborough while actor Leonardo DiCaprio is on the board of directors.
BuzzFeed had said WWF was like a spymaster “running dangerous and secretive networks of informants motivated by “fear” and “revenge,” including within indigenous communities, to provide park officials with intelligence”.
“The atrocities and human rights abuses that were alleged are at odds with everything we associate with charity,” a spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said.
“The way in which a charity carries out its work is as important as what it does.”
The British watchdog said it will assess WWF UK’s processes and due diligence in respect of grants it has made to other WWF entities overseas.
Britain’s Prince Charles has been president of WWF UK, famous for its black and white panda logo, since 2011.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
“It’s a step forward that the Charity Commission is finally launching an investigation, but we’re not holding our breath,” Stephen Corry, director of charity Survival International, which supports tribal people, said in a statement.
"The Commission is only concerned with WWF UK, and has no ability to judge its complicity in human rights violations." (Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org for more stories.)