Climate protestors occupied WWF’s Living Planet Centre in London on Tuesday (31 August), calling for a decolonisation of conservation as part of a two-week wave of protests that have brought parts of the UK capital to a standstill.
Activists from the Youth Solidarity movement of Extinction Rebellion and WTF WWF livestreamed several videos from within WWF’s office, showing people holding banners and making speeches about alleged links between the environmental NGO and human rights abuses in conversation areas.
The two activist groups have been calling for the defunding of WWF and for people to redirect donations to Indigenous and local community conservation efforts in order to “decolonise conservation”.
“WWF has been found out and there’s plenty of proof of the human rights abuses, murders, tortures, killings, evictions of countless people across the world,” one of the protestors said outside the building.
In response to the protest, a WWF spokesperson told EURACTIV: “We value dialogue and collaboration on these complex issues but find the actions taken by this campaign group at our UK headquarters today disappointing.”
“We share the same ambition to protect our world, tackle climate change and ensure a future where people and nature thrive,” the spokesperson added.
Several videos were posted over the course of the day, with later ones showing police inside the building evacuating the activists.
“WWF UK has refused all of the demands regarding the violent evictions of Indigenous communities across Kenya, Cameroon and Tanzania,” said one of the activists as she was being evacuated from the building.
A WWF spokesperson said communities are at the heart of its work. “As a global organisation we will continue to strengthen how we embed human rights into nature conservation, everywhere we work including in the most challenging areas of the world, to safeguard communities and the nature upon which they depend,” the spokesperson said.
Evictions, beatings and killings have become a growing issue in the battle for the conservation of land and biodiversity. Conservation initiatives are often most sorely needed in countries where there are already human rights abuses and poor law enforcement.
Following allegations of human rights violations, WWF commissioned an independent review in 2019 to examine its role.
“Importantly, the panel found no evidence that WWF staff directed, participated in, or encouraged any abuses. When concerns were raised, our staff took actions to respond. The panel was also unsparing in its conclusion that we need to do more,” according to a statement by the NGO.
“The reported abuses committed by some government rangers horrify us, and go against all the values we stand for. We feel deep and unreserved sorrow for those who have suffered. We are determined to do more to make communities’ voices heard, to have their rights respected, and to consistently advocate for governments to uphold their human rights obligations,” it continued.
The protest also caused friction on Twitter between Conservative MP, Alexander Stafford, and the activists, who called the anti-WWF protest “a disgrace”.
“I used to work for WWF for years, trying to reverse the decline in nature and protect our environment. This protest by Extinction Rebellion is a disgrace. They do more harm than good and are little more than an extremist group that care more for their own egos than for the planet,” the MP tweeted as part of a thread on the protest.
Extinction Rebellion UK responded: “Thanks for the feedback Alex. We’re a peaceful non violent movement, less of the ‘thugs and bullies’ rhetoric. But we do have to ask, when you worked for Shell did you also try to reverse the decline in nature & protect our environment?”
Extinction Rebellion is running a two-week protest around London, including blockading London Bridge, protesting Shell sponsorship of the London Science Museum and campaigning against what they called “blood money” in financial institutions they claim are linked to environmental racism.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]