For an NGO such as WWF, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an effective lever for influencing the practices of the private sector and for challenging its economic models. WWF therefore develops partnerships with international groups and local businesses, is involved in drawing up and disseminating standards and encouraging multi-stakeholder dialogue.
The Earth’s ecological footprint has been growing continuously for 40 years.¹ Businesses play a crucial role in reducing the damage to ecosystems both by switching to more sustainable modes of production and consumption and by supporting environmental protection efforts.
For a long time NGOs have mostly acted by publicly challenging the private sector, exposing those companies that show little regard for the environment or for human rights. But over the last twenty years the relationship has evolved towards a greater degree of dialogue and collaboration. NGOs have gradually become part of the landscape of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – today a particularly efficient means of having a long-lasting influence on the position and intervention models of the private sector. For several years, WWF has been using this approach – based on dialogue and engagement – with the private sector: it works with companies, persuading them to modify their practices and developing innovative solutions
with them to reduce their ecological footprint. This approach is vital in sub-Saharan Africa, where environmental protection problems are acute.² WWF acts at several levels in order to influence the practices of the private sector in the region. It creates partnerships with multinational companies that can have a very strong impact on the continent – for example in the mining and agricultural industries – and, via its local offices,³ it is beginning to work alongside companies that wish to improve their environmental practices. WWF also works at industry level to develop standards. Finally, it is responding to the increasing demand from African governments for help in drafting appropriate législation and is thus trying to influence the corporate environment in order to encourage firms to develop CSR policies.
Collaborating with businesses
WWF creates partnerships with companies to make them adopt more sustainable practices.
The form of these partnerships is defined jointly with the companies depending on their main environmental impacts and WWF’s priorities. They generally include an element of technical cooperation in developing their environmental strategy and/or on a ‘licensing’.4 Partnerships are often established for three years, are renewable and include a roadmap. WWF’s rôle is to support the overall strategy, but not to implement it directly. In Africa today, this strategy mainly involves major international companies. For example, in 2015 WWF and the Rougier group,5 a timber production and trading company, began a strategic collaboration over three years based mainly on the development of relevant indicators for the management and monitoring of the flora and fauna in the company’s forest concessions in Gabon, support for the effective operation of antipoaching units in the north of the Congo as well as the optimisation of the local development fund financed by Rougier. WWF plans to develop more collaborations of this type with local companies: for example in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, WWF has already helped several companies to draw up fauna management plans for areas in which they operate.
The success of these partnerships requires field visits, regular meetings with the teams – before and after signature of the contract and the establishment of a Framework for implementation and monitoring, including quantified, dated and measurable objectives. Success also depends on involving people at the highest levels within the company and the allocation of adequate resources. WWF always seeks to make critical and constructive comments on its partners’practices. It is careful to maintain its independence and to avoid ‘environmental whitewash’ practices.
Acting on entire industries
WWF acts also at the level of major industries, where it contributes to the definition of private international standards of sustainability accompanied by rigorous certification. This approach aims to compensate for the weakness of national régulations and to steer the markets towards good practice. WWF has launched, or taken part in, numerous initiatives using a multi-stakeholder, ‘roundtable’ approach to bring together the interests of the whole industry in order to jointly develop new standards for sustainable management of natural resources. Once these standards have been written they must be disseminated as widely as possible – this is an important aspect of WWF’s work. It is also necessary to provide support for willing companies during the certification process. Amongst other things, certification brings them competitive advantage and a better image.
Thus WWF has originated, or contributed to, many private standards. For example the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label for sustainable timber was created twenty years ago; today, 14% of the productive forests in the world are labelled FSC (FSC, 2012). The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), designed on the same model, concerns products from the sea; today about 11% of fish caught outside fish farms bear this label (FAO, 2014). Fortified by such successes, WWF has extended the participative approach to a dozen other productive industries: palm oil (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), soya (Roundtable on Responsible Soy), cotton (Better Cotton Initiative), etc. However, these standards remain far from widespread among African companies.6 The goal is to extend them much more widely across the African continent over the forthcoming years.
In order to influence the practices of major industries, WWF also supports the creation of networks and platforms. For example it has created the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) with more than 300 members – timber suppliers, producers and buyers – in more than 30 countries (including seven from Africa). Its role is to promote sustainable forest management. For example, in Cameroon, training has been organised for several companies7 to help them operate in accordance with the best environmental and social practices. After only a few years, the Congo Basin region now has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest area of certified forest.
Helping governments to galvanise the private sector
Although African governments are demonstrating an ever-increasing degree of political will to set up strategic frameworks for CSR, they lack the technical and financial resources to accomplish their objectives. WWF’s aim is to help them define public policies that will strengthen their capacity to force companies to adhere to standards. The nature of the collaboration between WWF and governments depends on the country, the environmental issue and the industry concerned. Its scope of intervention is very wide: from the provision of technical expertise (zoning plans, tackling questions of overlapping land-use, etc.), to facilitating dialogue between different parties, but also the organisation of technical workshops or training courses, technical support for the implementation of projects, awareness campaigns, the development and provision of tools to facilitate decision-making, etc. WWF also takes part in government working parties. In Cameroon in 2013, WWF initiated the launch of the process for drawing up the national strategy for sustainable development in the palm oil industry and also provided technical support for that process (Hoyle, Levang, 2012). WWF financed several
studies (for example a diagnostic and prospective study of the industry, a review of the legal and institutional framework of the industry) whose results were consolidated into the draft national strategy document.
In fact WWF is becoming increasingly committed to its policy of influencing African governments and regional organisations so that the question of environmental conservation is taken into account in the political and public agenda. WWF is also becoming more and more involved in public debates about infrastructure projects (energy, min- ing, etc.) which can have significant environmental impacts: deforestation, damage to sensitive ecosystems, soil pollution, etc. In African countries, local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) do not always have sufficient capacity or resources to become actively involved in these projects. That is why, in parallel, WWF supports the strengthening of the capacities of these CSOs, as well as the establishment and training of coalitions of CSOs. For example, in Madagascar, WWF has taken part in the creation of Alliance Voary Gasy (AVG), which brings together around 30 local associations promoting better governance of natural resources, and also provides it with technical assistance.
In order to raise awareness and involve the greatest possible number of people in environmental issues, WWF has adopted a strategy based on dialogue and engagement with all the stakeholders – including companies – in order to seek, and then implement, effective, sustainable solutions. This approach, adopted a long time ago, is now bearing fruit. Nevertheless, as a last resort, when dialogue with companies breaks down and the environmental damage caused by their activities is significant, WWF has no hesitation in condemning them publicly. The case of Virunga (Box) shows that campaigns appealing directly to companies can be an effective means of influencing their practices. This approach will continue to be used selectively in situations where the conservation issues are considered to be a global priority.
¹ The authors would like to thank the following for their contribution to the article: Arnaud Gauffier (Agriculture & Food Programme officer, WWF France), Aurélie Pontal (Partnerships Manager, WWF France), Ludovic Miaro (Regional coordinator of the Palm Oil programme, WWF CARPO), Maxime Nzita Nganga Di Mavambu (Regional coordinator, Business & Extractive Industries, WWF CARPO), Laurent Somé (Interim Conservation Director, WWF African Regional Office).
² According to a study published by the WWF and the African Development Bank, 2012, 40% of African biodiversity has disappeared in 40 years.
³ The WWF has regional offices in Nairobi and Yaoundé and national offices in South Africa, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Madagascar.
4 By placing the WWF logo on the company’s products, the ‘licensing’ mechanism promotes and gives added value to products made using processes judged to be sustainable, thus orientating the consumer and, consequently, the market.
5 Rougier exploits more than two million hectares of forest concessions in the heart of the Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
6 For example today, Africa only accounts for 3% of the FSC-certified forests in the world.
7 PALLISCO-CIFM Group, Decolvenaere group Cameroon, Wijma Cameroon, SFID/ Rougier Group, Alpicam-Grumcam group, etc.
References / Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2014, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. // Forest Stewardship Council, 2012. Global Market Survey. Available online:
https://ic.fsc.org/fsc-global-market-survey-report.585.htm // Hoyle, D., Levang, P., 2012. Le développement du palmier à huile au Cameroun [Development of Palm Oil in Cameroon: working document prepared by WWF and IRD/CIFOR]. Available online: http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/developpmentpalmierhuilecameroun.pdf // WWF, African Development Bank, 2012. Africa ecological footprint report – Green infrastructure for Africa’s ecological security. Available online: http://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/africa_efr_english_low_res_1.pdf