20061013

 

ROC: Activities and progress of CIB and WCS in working with indigenous communities - and other considerations

*Key reference for actors in the Republic of Congo. Highlights positive developments that could be used as models in other concessions. Overall, while logging activities are the core cause that drives displacement of indigneous peoples from their traditional lands, CIB is perhaps the most responsible private sector actor in the Congo Basin. While the human rights abuses by "ecoguards" have occured within the CIB concessions, this is largely the responsibility of WCS and its donors as the provision and training of "ecoguards" is a funded activity under WCS' grants and administration of the program is the responsibility of WCS. Naturally, to the extent human rights abuses have been perpetuated in the concession areas of CIB, it is evident that CIB should be concerned about the damage to its corporate reputation caused by such events.

Although WCS has publically acknowledged that the behaviours of its ecoguards is a matter of concern, its actions taken to correct and prevent futher abuses are either unpublished or otherwise not readily accessible as public information. WCS should recognize that as a recepient of public and private donors funds that it bears an elevated duty of accountability and transparency as a matter of principal and business sense. WCS should recognize that although USAID funding for conservation initiatives may be assured in the Congo Basin, private donors who wish to support wildlife conservation may not appreciate the fact that their funds also contribute to human rights violations against indigenous peoples and may seek out other organizations that take a more coherent approach to protection of ecosystems that genuinely seek to support - rather than pressure - what is an already extremely vulnerable population of which 2/3 are children. It will be interesting to note the position of WCS and WWF adopts in relation to the launch of a 2007 census and in-depth study of the impact of their programs on indigenous peoples - with a focus on indigenous children - in the Congo Basin, but given the increased international focus on the extreme marginalization of indigenous peoples - and Article 30 of the CRC - it would behoove these organizations to adopt a proactive position. Conservation organizations are well-financed, particularly in the Congo Basin, and the only reason for not routinely including timely information on their websites about their plans, strategies, approaches, activities and outcomes relevant to indigenous peoples is if none exist.

Conscientous and well-informed donors (which demographically represents the majority of private foundations and core supporters) are becoming more sophisticated in their use of ICT to gather information and have thus become more critical in their analysis of programs in developing portfolios. What both conservation and humanitarian organizations should realize is that well-heeled donors did not generally become wealthy by being stupid or by making poor investment decisions in their business lives. Key donors are less influenced by marketing initiatives and undocumented claims than by the existence of obvious gaps or black holes. As the strategies of human rights organizations evolve, one can expect that conservation actors that operate under public and private grants will be subject to closer scrutiny and "avoidence strategies" will be exploited to highlight what appears to be indifference and an organizational focus on income over questions of equity and responsiblility.

In a world where donors have a myriad of organizations to choose from, third sector actors will have to decide whether a myopic view of their particular interest is going to cut it with customers whose main concern is promoting a better world. Any way you slice it, most of these donors would prefer not to be confronted with the problem that their choice of organization represents a choice between saving a chimp or saving a child - particlarly where one is accomplished at the expense of another. If there is one key word that humanitarian and conservation organizations should assimilate into their lexicon is the word: Both. And as actions have always spoken louder than words, whether they really mean it is a simple matter of checking a website.

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