Male staff at a leading Kenyan carbon-offsetting project used by Netflix, Shell and other large companies have been accused of extensive sexual abuse and harassment over more than a decade, following an investigation by two NGOs.
The Kasigau Corridor conservation project in southern Kenya, operated by the California-based firm Wildlife Works, generates carbon credits by protecting dryland forests at risk of being destroyed in key elephant, lion and wildlife habitats west of Mombasa. The scheme was the first ever forest protection scheme approved by Verra, the world’s leading certifier of carbon offsets, and has also been accredited for its biodiversity and community benefits, probably generating millions of dollars in revenue in carbon-credit sales.
A new report by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (Somo), a Dutch NGO, alleges extensive sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation between 2011 and 2023 by senior male employees of Wildlife Works, according to the testimonies of 31 current and former male and female staff as well as members of the local community.
In a statement on Friday, which was updated on Sunday, Wildlife Works’ president, Mike Korchinsky, said after the company was made aware of the allegations in August, it suspended three people. An internal investigation conducted by a Kenyan law firm found evidence that two individuals had engaged in “deeply inappropriate and harmful behaviour”, he said.
Korchinsky apologised for the “pain that had been caused” but denied the problem was widespread, saying that the substantiated sexual harassment misconduct had been perpetrated by one individual. He also said some of the allegations had not been substantiated.
Wildlife Works said it was in the final stages of the disciplinary process and would say more once it had finished. On Friday, Verra said it had launched an investigation into the project.
The report, based on interviews by staff from the NGOs, who are trained in dealing with gender-based violence, includes allegations of a physical assault and attempted rape on company premises.
Senior men used their positions to demand sex in return for promotions and better treatment, the report alleges. The wives of male rangers were also pursued by one perpetrator, a senior member of staff, who allegedly told them that their husbands’ jobs depended on them having sex with him.
In a letter sent in August to Wildlife Works from Somo and the KHRC, seen by the Guardian, the organisations alleged extensive sexual abuse at the project by multiple members of staff. They only named one alleged perpetrator but stated that the issue was extensive.
Kasigau Corridor conservation project is marketed for its contribution to women’s empowerment in the area, a claim echoed by some firms that have bought credits, such as Netflix. One video, produced by Netflix to promote the project, says “a key part of this project is empowering women”. Shell has bought nearly 2m credits from the scheme, according to data from AlliedOffsets, while Netflix has bought a quarter of a million. Several other large companies have used credits from the project for climate and biodiversity commitments. Netflix did not respond to a request for comment.
Somo’s executive director, Audrey Gaughran, said that during interviews with affected women, it became clear that the allegations were well known among employees. “We received accounts from women, who were current and past employees of Wildlife Works, who were sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted in sexual ways,” she said. “Sexualised slurs were shouted at women.”
“Perpetrators could act with relative impunity because they were senior males and nobody seemed to be able to touch them. One perpetrator in particular, the most named, goes to the wives of rangers once the rangers are stationed out on the property. The implication is: ‘Your husband has a job because of me. Do you want him to keep his job?’ That was very difficult for some of the men to talk about,” she said.
The allegations come amid widespread concerns about the environmental integrity of many forest protection offsets. This year, a joint Guardian investigation found huge numbers of credits were “largely worthless” and found evidence of forced clearances at a leading project in Peru. The findings were disputed by Verra.
Verra is expected to release its new rules for generating carbon credits ahead of the Cop28 climate change conference in Dubai, which begins later this month.