Opinion: Can producers trust WWF to be accountable?

Beef Central, 07/05/2012

Should Australia’s cattle industry be sitting at the negotiating table or fighting from the trenches when it comes to engaging in sustainability discussions with environmental group the World Wildlife Fund?Key players in the international beef supply chain, including Australian cattle industry leaders, have been discussing the potential development of a sustainability plan for the global beef industry with the WWF since late 2010. Australian cattle producers will learn more about the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef process at a seminar at Beef 2012 in Rockhampton this Thursday. Recent debate on the question of whether Australia’s cattle industry should negotiate with WWF on the development of a sustainability plan for Australian beef producers has exposed divisions on the issue at producer level. Property Rights Australia has been a vocal opponent of industry engagement. Here spokesman and southern Queensland cattle producers Dale Stiller outlines some of the group's concerns. Cattle Council of Australia was also invited to explain its reasons for supporting beef industry participation in the global roundtable process, but declined the offer. Beef Central will report on this Thursday’s seminar where representatives of the various companies and organisations involved in the roundtable process will speak. Beef Central welcomes perspectives from all stakeholders on the issue of Australian cattle industry involvement in global beef industry sustainability discussions.

Can producers trust WWF to be accountable to a beef sustainability plan?

In the quest of others to create an image, Australian beef producers are at the mercy of a cynical business arrangement that has little to do with the realities of science, environment, production, improved beef prices or the best interests of Australian beef producers. The business arrangement is between international titans of the beef trade and the largest international environment organisation or ENGO, WWF.

Any advertising agency can tell you that a well-known brand name or logo is a powerful marketing tool. The panda logo of WWF is an image internationally very well known. These multi-national corporations that trade in beef including JBS, Cargill, Walmart and McDonalds are looking to engage with WWF in a partnership to obtain an endorsement of the panda logo for a marketing edge. These image-makers first met in Denver, Colorado in November 2010 at a conference convened by WWF for the Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

Image appears to be also on the mind of one Australian industry body, Cattle Council Australia, who has engaged in the roundtable of sustainable beef process. Recently on the 27th April in the CCA forum, Your Say Beef 2015 and Beyond, CCA councillor Hamish Munro said,

“By not engaging with NGO's (like WWF and RSPCA, which are the more moderate), we as an industry run the risk of becoming irrelevant within the environmental and welfare policy development area and we would project an image of apathy for the environment and animal welfare.”

Image is important but even more so is accountability. Can beef producers trust WWF to be accountable to a beef sustainability plan?  Let us look beyond our known history of rural landowners “engagement” with WWF in the failings of the vegetation management laws and reef regulation. How accountable is WWF in its activities across the world stage in this current day? In seeking to answer these questions let us establish if WWF is as moderate an organisation as CCA has proposed. As Australian beef producers the behaviour anywhere in the world of those who our industry engages with is relevant because it is worldwide that a substantial proportion of Australian beef is sold.

Earlier in the same year of the Denver conference, Frederico Ferreira, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute wrote in a review of the book, Good Cop/Bad Cop: Environmental NGOs and their Strategies Toward Business    

“The so-called “bad cops”–– tend to be more critical and less collaborative in engaging corporations, lawmakers or other entities. “Good cops”––integrating NGOs––aim at promoting their goals through constructive partnerships with government and civil society organizations.

For example, Greenpeace is more likely to engage in protests and actions aimed at shaming companies or politicians that do not act in accordance with its standards.
WWF, are adaptive, willing to negotiate with businesses to encourage them to change their environmental stands. The partnership of WWF with Coca-Cola Company in setting sustainability targets is a good example of the approach.

One key focus of the book is on the organizational structure of NGOs and their relative lack of transparency.

Who then are NGOs accountable to? The issue of accountability is thorny for NGOs. The expectation that an environmental NGO should provide a vaguely described “public good” often results in their clients being loosely defined as sectors of society or the society as a whole. Unless, an NGO has a very specific and defined mandate with a target population, its client base will be so broad that it’s almost impossible to judge whether it is being responsive to its intended clients. In effect, there are often no specific clients to hold an NGO accountable”

Who then are WWF accountable to? If Australian beef producers sign up to the roundtable for sustainable beef we will be participants in one of the many partnerships WWF has with business around the world.

How accountable are WWF to its “partners”? In an opinion article earlier this year in the Washington Times Andrew Langer wrote.

“Even “partners” of the organization have been burned by its fundamental opposition to economic activity. In 2010, WWF unilaterally downgraded Vietnamese pangasius, a staple fish, in its “sustainability scorecard” despite a partnership with the industry and cooperation from producers to implement its practices.”

If WWF is not accountable to its partners in the business world surely they would respect the authority of democratically elected governments. But no, Langer also writes in his opinion article.
WWF recently has moved into the business space, convincing governments and institutions that it can be trusted with managing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. One nation that fell for WWF’s sales pitch was Norway, which recently granted WWF responsibility to oversee two environmental aid projects in Tanzania worth a combined $7 million. Last week, amid accusations of embezzlement, the Norwegian government announced that it was suspending the project.”

In June 2011 a German documentary was released called Silence of the Pandas. This documentary demonstrates that WWF aren’t accountable for their activities in third world countries toward indigenous peoples and very surprisingly for an organisation with the image of the protector of the endangered and the environment; it isn’t accountable to these values as well.

(In drawing attention to these youtube links to the Silence of the Pandas and the quote from Rainforest Rescue, Property Rights Australia wishes to advise that it is not comfortable with all material contained within; they do however provide a perspective on WWF’s activities.)

Click here for link to Silence of the Pandas part 1 

Click here for link to Silence of the Pandas part 2

A smaller more idealistic environment group, Forest Rescue, indicates its contempt of WWF on its web site when writing about the Silence of the Pandas documentary.

“The WWF is the largest environmental protection organisation in the world. Trust in its green projects is almost boundless. With rousing campaigns, the WWF directly targets the conscience of its donors – everyone should do their part to save endangered species, the climate and the rainforest. The WWF was founded on September 11, 1961. Today it is the most influential lobby for the environment in the world. Thanks largely to its excellent contacts in both the political and industrial spheres. Behind this eco-facade, the film uncovered explosive stories from all around the world. Stories of displaced peoples, cleared rainforests and the huge money-making industry that is the WWF's green seal of approval”

Not only does this material across the world indicate that WWF is not accountable to anyone but also given this information age that it is only a matter of time and WWF’s image will suffer.  WWF is developing an unsavoury reputation that will ultimately devalue its panda brand name among the affluent westerners who can afford a green conscience. Then the large players in the international beef trade will remove all association with WWF.

Property Rights Australia holds the view that unelected and unaccountable people have no right to interfere in the industry where their knowledge is non-existent or tenuous. Grass roots beef producers were neither consulted nor did they approve of this adventure with big business and the ENGO’s.

Surely as a developed nation we have the capacity to define sustainability in a partnership between landowners and rangeland scientists; we may not have a brand name but at least we will have integrity.


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