Netflix, McKinsey, Microsoft, and Shell among key customers of the project
Systematic sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation of women by senior male employees of US-headquartered company Wildlife Works has been uncovered at the Kasigau project in Kenya in an investigation by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
SOMO and KHRC are publishing a dossier of evidence based on the testimonies of 31 current and former employees and members of the local community.
The sexual abuses reported at Wildlife Works’ Kasigau project include physical assault and attempted rape on company premises or land as well as persistent harassment and the use of humiliating sexualised slurs.
One employee testified that,“Women are treated as sex objects but nothing happens because [the perpetrators] intimidate everybody.”*
Senior men in the company used their positions of power to demand sex in return for promotions and better treatment at work. Refusal of these sexual demands was met with retribution, including being bullied, intimidated, and refused promotions or other work-related benefits.
One woman described how rejecting sexual advances leads women to “live and work in fear…because we can be dismissed at any time without good reason.”*
The culture of abuse at Wildlife Works’ Kasigau project was widely recognized by men and women SOMO interviewed. Key perpetrators of the abuse were repeatedly named by those interviewed. According to our investigation, the abuse has persisted for a decade or more.
A male employee shared, ‘It’s so cruel… our sisters are just not safe working at that company. I can’t allow my sister or wife to work at that company because the things that will happen to her there can affect her for the rest of her life”.*
SOMO director Audrey Gaughran said, “Our investigation found compelling evidence that the culture at Wildlife Works’ Kasigau project is one that has enabled sexual abuse to become common-place and common knowledge.
“Again and again we heard harrowing accounts of assault, abuse, intimidation, and degradation of women by men in positions of power at Wildlife Works' Kasigau project.”
Female employees were not the only targets. The wives of male rangers were also reportedly pursued by one perpetrator and told their husbands’ employment depended on them having sex with him.
The poverty in the region and very limited employment alternatives mean people are desperate to get and keep jobs at Wildlife Works, even when the cost is so egregious.
The abuse of power by senior male staff also extended to the local community. SOMO and KHRC received testimony from women living in the villages surrounding this project about encounters with Wildlife Works rangers that left them traumatised, humiliated, and, in some cases, in physical pain.
Rangers subjected women found gathering firewood or grazing their livestock on company land to humiliation and abuse, forcing them to kneel on the ground for three hours or longer.
“We cried and cried,” one woman recalled, “but there was no mercy.”*
Kenya Human Rights Commission programme manager Mary Kambo said, “We are calling on the Kenyan government to conduct an independent investigation into the serious allegations of sexual abuse at Kasigau.
“As a bare minimum victims must get redress, perpetrators must be held to account and safeguards be put in place to protect the human rights of Wildlife Works’ employees and the local communities.”
Multinational corporations drive demand for the carbon-offsetting industry
Multinationals like Netflix, Shell, and Microsoft, which are based in the Global North, offset their carbon emissions on paper by purchasing carbon ‘credits’ from companies such as Wildlife Works that claim to reduce emissions elsewhere in the world - often in the Global South.
The carbon offset industry is significantly driven by the demand created by these big multinationals.
“Carbon offsetting is a deceptive business that profits from commodifying nature and communities. It enables corporations to greenwash and avoid real emission reductions,” said Audrey Gaughran.
Investigation must be independent
SOMO and KHRC shared the findings about sexual abuse with Wildlife Works in early August 2023, urging an independent investigation that would ensure the safety of victims at Kasigau. Wildlife Works responded by setting up an internal investigation run by a Kenyan law firm.
In October 2023, SOMO asked all of the women and men interviewed in June and July 2023 if they had met with the lawyers working for Wildlife Works. Only one man and one woman of the original 27 people who gave SOMO and KHRC testimonies said they had been interviewed.
Researchers spoke to these two individuals and three additional people who had been interviewed by the lawyers. Four of the five shared that they had told the lawyers about the widespread sexual harassment and abuse happening at the Kasigau project. The fifth person, a woman who said she has been subjected to severe abuses at Wildlife Works, chose not to disclose this to the lawyers, worrying that “maybe they could have me fired.”
Audrey Gaughran said: “It is vital that the investigation into sexual abuse at Wildlife Works’ Kasigau project be fully independent, compliant with human rights standards, and that it leads to accountability and remedy for all those affected.”
Notes to editors
*Testimony provided to researchers by employees of Wildlife Works Kasigau REDD+ project and members of the local community.
SOMO has shared the findings of the report in advance with Netflix, Shell, McKinsey, and Microsoft in writing. Only Shell has responded and stated that it takes the reports seriously and is in contact with the project developers. Shell awaits the findings of the investigation into these allegations that Wildlife Works has commissioned.
SOMO investigates multinationals. Independent, factual, critical and with a clear goal: a fair and sustainable world, in which public interests outweigh corporate interests. We conduct action-oriented research to expose the impact and unprecedented power of multinationals. Cooperating with hundreds of organisations around the world, we ensure that our information arrives where it has the most impact: from communities and courtrooms to civil society, media and politicians.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) is a premier and flagship Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Africa that was established and incorporated in 1992 by Kenyans exiled in the United States of America (USA) and later registered in Kenya in 1994. KHRC founders are among the foremost leaders and activists in struggles for human rights and democratic reforms in Kenya and beyond. The KHRC is committed to its mandate of enhancing human rights-centered governance at all levels and its vision to secure human rights states and societies. KHRC’s mission is to foster human rights, democratic values, human dignity, and social justice.
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