Alexander Hamilton once quipped, “Nobody expects to trust his body overmuch after the age of 50.” One could make a similar observation about the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which just entered its fifth decade of existence. In the past few days, WWF has become embroiled in one of the largest scandals to hit the organization since its inception, raising serious questions regarding its accountability, integrity and, most significant, trustworthiness.
Not content with being a mere activist organization that siphons off taxpayer dollars to campaign against free-market capitalism, 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.
Preliminary investigations suggest that WWF failed to perform proper due diligence and implement appropriate measures to prevent such a disastrous outcome. Of course, this matters little to the Norwegians, who have witnessed their stellar development credentials being undermined severely overnight by an organization more invested in ideology and social engineering than in actual outcomes.
WWF’s failure should be a lesson to the rest of us, but it’s hardly the first time the organization’s integrity has been called into question. WWF has been caught repeatedly playing fast and loose with the truth, fabricating information in its report on the Himalayan glaciers in 2009 as well as deforestation rates in the Amazon, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
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. The facts point to one conclusion: WWF’s sole purpose is to alarm the public, avoid an open debate and turn developing world communities into vassals. It’s all the more tragic that the organization receives public funding - WWF is prospering off the backs of U.S. taxpayers.
Previously, WWF was focused primarily on cooperating with groups like Greenpeace to intimidate and undermine the integrity of the private sector. This obviously is still part of its everyday operations, with the most obvious example taking place right now in Virginia, where WWF has sought to coerce retailers including Kroger into abandoning their business with local paper manufacturers. At stake are the jobs of more than 150 directly employed people, not to mention the communities that rely on those incomes. Virginians might want to ask why the federal government continues to throw checks at an organization dedicating itself to destroying jobs. But the U.S. taxpayer is funding anti-capitalist WWF activities that go well beyond the shores of the United States. In fact, taxpayer dollars help WWF implement its agenda on a global basis.
WWF is so entrenched in the U.S. government’s international development apparatus that it’s only a matter of time before its president receives a Cabinet-level position. Perhaps one of WWF’s board members, former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, sees this effort as an alternative avenue to power from his failed bid for the presidency. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been particularly culpable in allowing WWF to siphon off taxpayer dollars for the purpose of promulgating ideological pursuits in some of the world’s most impoverished nations.
In September alone, USAID selected WWF to oversee projects worth a combined $60 million in Nepal and Indonesia. WWF’s work in Indonesia is all the more insidious given that it’s simultaneously attacking the country’s paper industry while attempting to close off Western markets that provide thousands of jobs. In addition, these projects run contrary to the strategic goals of international development. They undermine economic growth, oppose free trade and encourage developing nations to become more reliant on U.S. taxpayers. Thus, it’s not just aid dollars Americans are losing, it’s national prestige.
In the past decade, real progress has been made in reframing the debate on international development, focusing much more on how trade opportunities can be leveraged to help alleviate poverty than on merely sending bundles of cash overseas. Unfortunately, this progress is in jeopardy, thanks to a pernicious partnership between governments and groups like WWF. As the Norwegian government surveys the wreckage left by WWF in Tanzania, the United States and other nations around the world should consider whether it’s wise to send hundreds of millions of dollars to an organization that has failed to deliver. An immediate moratorium would be a good start. In order to restore trust, ending such funding entirely would be a good end.
Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty and director of the institute’s Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity Project.