In February 2016, Survival International filed a complaint with the Swiss NCP regarding the activities of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Cameroon. The complaint alleges WWFs involvement in violent abuse and land theft against Baka “Pygmies” in Cameroon, carried out by anti-poaching squads that are partly funded and equipped.
The complainant alleges that before beginning its work in Cameroon, WWF failed to consider what impact its involvement would have on the Baka and as a result has contributed to human rights violations. Survival International claims that WWF supports conservation zones on Baka land, to which the Baka are denied access, as well as the anti-poaching squads that have violently abused Baka men and women, and other rainforest tribes, for well over a decade. Survival International argues these actions are a violation of the human rights and due diligence provisions of the OECD Guidelines and WWFs own policy on indigenous peoples.
This complaint is unique as it one of the few OECD Guidelines cases against an NGO, and the first ever filed by an NGO against an NGO.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Chapter IV
- Chapter IV Paragraph 2
- Chapter IV Paragraph 3
- Chapter IV Paragraph 5
- Chapter IV Paragraph 6
- Version 2000 Chapter V
- Version 2000 Chapter V Paragraph V.2 Subparagraph V.2.B
The case was accepted by the Swiss NCP on 20 December 2016 after finding that the issues raised by Survival International merited further examination. The NCP also said while the OECD Guidelines do not provide a precise definition of a multinational enterprise, the NCP concluded that in this particular case, the OECD Guidelines can apply to WWF. The NCP then offered mediation.
On 5 September 2017, Survival International issued a press release, in which they announced that they would withdraw from the process and the mediation underway after talks with WWF had failed to secure WWF’s agreement to consent with the Baka people in Cameroon over how to manage the conservation zone. On 7 September 2017, the Swiss NCP put out a statement in reaction to Survival’s press release. The Swiss NCP stated that Survival breached confidentiality rules and that it did not agree with Survival’s description of the mediation process and alleged lack of impartiality of the NCP. As such, the NCP said they will close the case and publish a Final Statement on its website.
On 21 November 2017, the Swiss NCP releases the Final Statement outlining the procedures to date and the decision by Survival International to withdrawal from the process. The Swiss NCP states that during mediation meetings held between the parties on 6 and 7 June 2017 in Berne, the two parties had reached agreement for a two-way information flow on the following points:
WWF’s Project Complaint Resolution Process, whistleblower policy, and the Cameroon civil society orgainsation’s human rights abuse denunciation mechanism, along with work to help ensure open and transparent FPIC processes in Cameroon, and WWF’s work to pressure the Cameroonian government to publish FPIC information online;
Survival would continue to provide regular feedback to WWF on the situation of the Baka, which WWF would take into consideration;
The parties should hold regular meetings, and when possible in Cameroon, to continue to discuss the issues and analyse possible recommendations for improving future activities;
The two parties also agreed regarding the need to improve transparency and accountability in FPIC procedures in Cameroon, including the need to improve consultation with the Baka people to reduce the risk of abuse and that WWF would continue its operational and advocacy support to strengthen the Baka with regard to the land on which they rely.
However, according to the Swiss NCP the two parties could not reach agreement on the extent of the responsibility of the different actions, especially in regards to WWF and the Cameroonian government, regarding FPIC and action that should be taken in the event of unsatisfactory consultation with the Baka.
To conclude, the Swiss NCP made a few recommendations to the parties, including that both parties should continue to engage in dialogue, especially around the protection of human rights of the Baka; that the parties should implement the agreed actions that came from the mediation meetings; that WWF should continuously engage to help ensure open and transparent FPIC processes in Cameroon, including by pressuring the government to publish FPIC information online that demonstrates their compliance; and that Survival International should respect the rules of the specific instance procedure when considering any future submissions.
Finally, the Swiss NCP stated that they would follow-up on this complaint by asking parties after six months for information regarding their efforts to implement the above-mentioned recommendations.