Deal on sexual abuse scandal saves Kasigau forest initiative

Kasigau Corridor REDD Project

People living along the Kasigau Corridor REDD Project in Voi, Taita Taveta County, protest at Maungu town to call for the lifting of the suspension of the project by Verra. 

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • REDD+ is a United Nations driven initiative whose aim is to protect the world’s forests.

An international environmental standards organisation has lifted the ban on the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project.

The ban was effected in November last year following a damning report published by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the Kenya Human Rights Commission. It detailed allegations of sexual abuse of women and girls by some project staff, inadequate mechanisms for reporting and resolving sexual offences, improper employment practices, and inadequate community benefits from the projects.

REDD+ is a United Nations-driven initiative whose aim is to protect the world’s forests.

The Kasigau Corridor project, which is being implemented by Wildlife Works, was put on hold by Verra. Its revival comes as a welcome relief to hundreds of thousands of residents whose livelihoods were at stake.

Verra says on its website that it “sets the world’s leading standards for climate action and sustainable development”.

In a statement issued last Thursday, Verra announced that it had completed its review of the allegations and found that Wildlife Works had demonstrated that it was taking the actions required to address the issues and mitigate the risk of future harm. For instance, Wildlife Works has sacked the accused staff, conducted mandatory gender sensitivity and sexual harassment training, and put in place new grievance redress procedures for the community and employees that allow for anonymous complaints and protect complainants’ confidentiality.

Among those sacked are the head of security and the human resources manager.

Verra also said that Wildlife Works must, within two months, release information about its new gender equity task force and, within twelve months, provide evidence that all actions required by Verra’s Review Findings Report on the Kasigau project have been implemented.

“If the project proponent fails to provide such evidence, or if a future verification report raises findings indicating that any of the actions required by Verra’s report are no longer being implemented, Verra may put the projects on hold,” it said.

Verra stated that it took such allegations seriously and that it was committed to ensuring that its standards were applied with integrity and respect for human rights. On its part, Wildlife Works expressed its gratitude to Verra for lifting the ban and reiterated its apology to the affected community members.

“We are very pleased that Verra has lifted its hold on our Kasigau project. The past few months were very difficult for everyone involved but we are pleased that Verra has confidence in the big strides we have made to correct the wrongs that were discovered at the project," Wildlife Works said in a statement and pledged to continue to take action that will rectify the situation.

Taita Taveta Governor Andrew Mwadime lauded the lifting of the ban, which, he said, would have negatively impacted over 100,000 livelihoods.

“My administration will work closely with the community and the project's management to ensure that the proposals by Verra are strictly implemented in line with the required standards," the governor said.

The suspension had left locals worried about their future. They said the project has provided social and economic benefits through investments in health, education, water, income-generating activities, and direct jobs.

In a bid to resolve the issue, the residents had formed a committee comprising religious leaders and special interest groups to negotiate on their behalf.

Addressing a public baraza in Maungu last week, Wildlife Works officials apologised to residents and committed themselves to “upholding the highest standards of ethics and professionalism”.

Wildlife Works Project Lead Nicholas Taylor said the organisation regretted the conduct of its two staff members.

Mr Taylor had warned that the organisation might be forced to cease its operations should the ban continue to stand.

He said Wildlife Works was ready to listen to victims and had already made important steps to address the allegations and prevent a recurrence.

"What happened is regrettable but we will now forge ahead in a new chapter. My office is open to get more views from the community and I will be doing more public meetings with you so that we can collaborate on many issues," Mr Taylor told members of the local community.

Wildlife Works claims to be the world’s first and longest-standing certified REDD+ project. It aims to protect forests and wildlife, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide community benefits such as jobs, education, and women's empowerment. The project protects over 200,000 hectares of dryland forest in the Kasigau Corridor, home to over 2,000 elephants and other endangered species.

The project sells carbon credits to individuals and organisations that want to offset their carbon footprint and support conservation and development efforts in Kenya, including Microsoft, Shell, the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank.