Message from our CEO, Mike Davis
Just over 25 years ago, Global Witness was set up to end the corrupt extraction and destruction of natural resources. Our investigations exposed the illegal logging funding the Khmer Rouge, the blood diamonds fuelling conflict in Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the exploitative and shady deals forged by oil companies operating in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Today our mission of protecting the planet’s vital resources remains as critical as ever, but our ambition has grown. The climate emergency means we can no longer be satisfied with calling out corruption in the extraction and commoditisation of timber, fossil fuels, minerals and the Earth’s other raw materials. Even drastic improvements to the way companies and governments operate in this space will not be enough to stop the calamitous impacts of increased global warming.
That’s why we’re joining allies, activists and campaigners around the world to call for a climate revolution. Over the last three years, we’ve re-focused our work to more directly address the underlying causes of the climate crisis and are bringing our investigative skills, our advocacy experience and our communications prowess to hold those companies and governments to account for their destruction of the environment, their disregard for the planet, and their failure to respect human rights.
All over the world, the industries reliant on exploiting the planet – from logging companies to Big Oil and the financial institutions that bankroll them – are using a range of distraction techniques to delay or prevent the kind of action we need to stop the worst impacts of climate breakdown: the droughts, the flooding, the wildfires, the transformation of thriving land into desert.
Corporations trumpeting new green initiatives know they won’t be enough. But they are using their immense PR machines and links to world leaders to divert attention away from the changes needed to safeguard people and precious natural habitats, including an end to fossil fuel extraction, proper protection for climate critical forests and real accountability for companies that damage the environment and fail to uphold human rights.
Last year our new campaigns continued to grow, gathering momentum to push for major legislative change, pile media and political pressure on the companies and individuals who are contributing to environmental destruction, and ending practices that support the further degradation of the planet.
2020 was a challenging year for all organisations, as we have been forced to adapt to a world in which social contact, travel and in-person communication have been prevented by the global pandemic. Despite that, with support from all our incredible partners and generous donors, the talented team at Global Witness has delivered real impact. We continue to take on some of the most powerful individuals and companies in the world. And despite not being able to meet, we retain the solidarity and unity of purpose to carry on working towards a better future. I’m so grateful to all those who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us. Thank you!
Global Witness campaigns on six key issues:
- Ending the destruction of climate-critical tropical forests by curbing the flow of finance to those industries that profit from deforestation. Our 2019 landmark report Money to Burn showed how over 300 banks and investment funds in all parts of the globe contributed more than $44 billion to companies responsible for deforestation, especially in the Amazon, Congo Basin, and Papua New Guinea (PNG). We are campaigning for governments to introduce new rules and policies to tackle the financing and supply chains fuelling global deforestation.
- Ending the killing of land and environmental defenders, and ensure those who commit or are complicit in violence against them face justice. Our work exposes the links between incidents of intimidation or violence against defenders and irresponsible global agribusiness, which is complicit – and sometimes even instigating – such violence. We aim, through investigations, research and advocacy, to alter the behaviour of companies and governments that seek to disrupt the campaigns of land and environmental defenders by any means.
- Ending the growth of gas – the last fossil fuel. The fossil fuel industry is funding a global public relations campaign to influence opinion in favour of a shift to gas, which is presented as a solution to the climate crisis, but is actually the complete opposite. Our report “Overexposed” revealed that all production from new oil and gas fields – beyond those already in production or development – is incompatible with the goal of keeping warming under 1.5°C. Going above this level would have devastating impacts on human societies and the environment around the world. We are campaigning in the EU and the US, to stop taxpayers’ cash and government policies being used to prop up unviable fossil gas projects and expose the malign influence peddled by the gas industry on our political leaders and major legislative bodies.
- Ending corporate corruption and improving governance in the natural resources sector. All too often deals are done that enrich and empower elite politicians, breed impunity and widen existing inequalities. Instead of benefitting from their country’s natural resource wealth, local communities are often left with a legacy of environmental destruction and sometimes violent repression or even armed conflict. Our aim is to bring about an international system of corporate accountability and responsibility through new global norms and national laws, so that corporations cannot operate above the law either in the countries they work in or those where they are headquartered.
- Ending the division, hate and disinformation spread on digital platforms. Social media companies and Big Tech have pervaded our lives to an astonishing degree. Yet, time and again, we have seen how the use of Facebook, Google, Twitter and other platforms can amplify racist, misogynist and divisive content - even to the extent of inciting violence and undermining democracy. The way they are set up means they profit from the most attention-grabbing content, even when this leads to harm in the real world. We are campaigning to hold online platforms to account for their damaging business model. Our long-term goal is a world where social media companies and Big Tech are forced to operate transparently and where online hate and discrimination do not flourish unchecked.
- Ending corporate complicity in environmental and human rights abuses. We are campaigning for new global standards to stop companies being able to operate in a way that drives environmental and human rights abuses. Joining our partners and social movements around the world, we aim to force the hands of governments to ensure corporations who undermine the law start acting in the public interest and serve notice on those responsible for undermining progress towards a more sustainable, equitable future.
Spotlight on impact
We have achieved a lot in 2020, both in terms of tangible changes to legislation and in building the foundations for our longer-term campaigns. Here we have highlighted 10 of our most significant impacts from the last 12 months:
1. New legislation in the UK to tackle deforestation in supply chains
Informed by the work of Global Witness and our
partners, the UK government brought forward important draft legislation to tackle deforestation in UK supply chains. Read more
2. EU moves to back strong measures to tackle EU’s deforestation footprint
3. Progress to curb big companies tearing up climate critical forests
Our investigation, Beef, Banks and the Brazilian Amazon, revealed that a chain of actors from cattle ranchers through to multinational
beef traders, international financiers, supermarkets and fast-food chains, and
the governments that regulate them, are either destroying rainforests or are
complicit in the destruction of the Amazon, with flawed audits undertaken by US
and European auditors. Read more
4. Important step forward in holding corporations to account
Last year, the European Commission announced its intention to bring in a potentially
groundbreaking new law, which would hold companies to account for
their human rights abuses and environmental harms. Read more
5. Ending EU support for fossil gas expansion
Following months of pressure from Global Witness, the
European Commission took a critical step towards ending the EU’s support for
climate-wrecking fossil gas. Read more
6. Raising the stakes on corporate hypocrisy and environmental racism
7. Fossil fuel companies in the dock
8. A Global spotlight on Land and Environmental Defenders
Land and environmental defenders play a crucial role in protecting their
land, and our climate, against destructive business practices. Each year, we publish
the number of defenders killed, as well as highlighting the other challenges
they face, including violent attacks, criminalisation and threats to their
families. Read more
9. Spotlight on national oil companies and hidden debt
Republic of Congo, Sub-Saharan
Africa’s third largest oil producer, faces bankruptcy, receiving multiple
multi-million dollar bailouts from the IMF after its leaders have siphoned off
its wealth. Read more
10. Taking on the bad guys
Believing the impossible
Global Witness is ambitious. Our campaigns aim to create a real step change in addressing some of the underlying causes of global warming. We are not in the business of tinkering at the edges. We want a new economic landscape in which people and planet take priority. We know systemic change is difficult to achieve, but we also know that it is possible. That’s why, in the face of day after day of depressing headlines about the progress being made to address the climate crisis, we remain optimistic that the climate movement will ultimately succeed.
As part of that growing and powerful collective, we bring our experience of establishing campaigns on issues that people told us again and again would not be possible to achieve. Along with our investigative, advocacy and communications skills, we also bring determination, persistence and resolve! We know that long-lasting change – the kind that will touch not just thousands of lives, but millions, and have global impact – is not always easy to secure. It can take years to build a case, create a strong evidence base, form partnerships, and identify key advocates.
In 2020, two of our long-running campaigns did secure real victories. When we first started working on the issue of stopping people from owning companies anonymously, a well-known route for channelling the proceeds of crime and corruption, we were told there was no chance of success. Similarly, when we launched our campaign to stop the UK financing fossil fuel exploration overseas, we were told this would never be a priority. And yet last year, huge steps forward were achieved in both areas.
We asked Nienke Palstra, Senior Campaigner, and Dominic Kavakeb, Senior Communications Advisor, to outline in a bit more detail how Global Witness helped achieve “impossible wins” in 2020.
Ending the “worst problem you’ve never heard of”: the campaign to stop the use of anonymously-owned companies
For over a decade Global Witness has been at the
forefront of the campaign to end anonymous companies - the getaway cars for the
criminal and corrupt all over the world. We saw this problem routinely come up
in our own investigations, preventing not just us but also law enforcement from
following the dirty money trail. Read more
The UK’s dirty footprint overseas – Ending fossil fuel exports
“My god, your country really does export nothing but weapons and pollution”. Slight over-simplification aside, this comment from a journalist at a well-known UK broadsheet was a very stark reminder of the absurdity of the UK extolling its climate credentials on the one hand, whilst exporting fossil fuels around the world with the other. Read more
Learning, developing, evolving
As an organisation, we are always looking to improve the way we work. In the last few years, we have particularly focused on expanding our capacity to analyse and share data as part of our investigative work, and our approach to building long-term, sustainable and equal partnerships with organisations, particularly in the Global South, which share our commitment to protecting the climate and safeguarding human rights. In this section, our Head of Data Investigations outlines the analysis carried out to uncover the extent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon driven by cattle farming, and campaigners in our Land and Environmental Defenders Campaign share details of a partnership programme that was established to support stronger communications on the ongoing battles being waged by environmental activists across the world.
Uncovering the illegal deforestation linked to Brazil’s biggest beef companies
At the end of 2020, we published Beef, Banks and the Brazilian Amazon.
It was the culmination of over a year of research and was our most ambitious
data-driven investigation to date. Work on the report began in 2019 when the Forests
and Data Investigations teams set themselves the goal of mapping Brazil’s
largest beef companies’ supply chains using only public records to see if they
sourced cattle from ranches associated with deforestation. Read more
Launching a new Strategic Awareness Raising Programme
Over the years, our Land and Environmental
Defenders campaign has built long-standing relationships with affected
communities across the world and has become part of a global movement of people
seeking an end to environmental harms and attacks against the communities that
protect our planet. We recognise that much of our data collection
and campaigning is strengthened by our relationships with national and local
level organisations. To build on this, we created our Strategic Awareness
Raising Programme (SARP) in 2020 to strengthen our partnerships with defenders. Read more
Adapting in a fast changing world
The COVID pandemic has altered the way all organisations work. Alongside this, shifts in our campaigning priorities to more directly address the climate emergency, and a fresh leadership team, has led to a period of reflection for us at Global Witness about the values we share, the culture we build and how that shapes the kind of organisation we are. Our HR Director, Nadia Bunyan, takes us behind the scenes to show how we have created a new Global Witness story to ensure we’re ready to take on the major challenges of the modern world.
2020: an internal perspective - Nadia Bunyan, HR Director
The world has changed significantly since Global Witness first took up its mission. We entered 2020 feeling that we were standing at the precipice of determining our significance for the next 25 years.
With new campaign strategic priorities and a newly appointed CEO it was time to consider how we would create a culture which contributed to keeping us relevant and sustainable so we could continue to contribute to solving the biggest problems that the world faces.
This prompted a period of deep reflection for Global Witness’s leadership team. How should Global Witness adapt to a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex?
Our conclusion was that for us to continue to succeed we needed to embody the principles we are fighting for by striving for greater cohesion, solidarity and inclusion internally and that everyone across the organisation needed to come together to pull towards a shared goal.
What we couldn’t have planned for, as we started to plot our path to change, is that we would need to adapt and respond to unchartered challenges for our people and our work as the global pandemic brought the shutters down on life as we knew it.
Pulling together: Global Witness story and values
We brought everyone across the organisation together to create a new story for Global Witness based on the following questions:
1. Why do we need to be different?
2. What is the unique difference that Global Witness makes to the world?
3. What are the challenges we face internally and externally that we must acknowledge?
4. How do we need to act to make sure we are pulling together as one organisation to make the difference?
This collective team effort resulted in the ‘Global Witness Story’ and a set of new organisational values: courage, kindness, inclusion and belonging, and collaboration. We are now using the Story every day in lots of different ways – it helps us describe who we are and what we stand for as an organisation, as well as being key to developing a more consistent employer brand.
We know that culture change is difficult and takes time. We are cautious about declaring victory too early. Our current priority is bringing our new values to life and making sure they are reflected in our everyday interactions with each other and the people and organisations externally that are important to us.
Our commitments to racial justice
In May 2020 following the killing of George Floyd the world began to open its eyes to the depth and scale of racial injustice.
While in recent years we have taken steps and made changes by recognising that we are part of a problematic disconnect between wanting a better world whilst continuing to operate in a way that fails to confront damaging aspects of the status quo and, at times, makes it worse.
But the reality is that we have more to do when it comes to racial justice.
On 11 June 2020 we publicly acknowledged our role in propagating racism and legacies of oppression and set out four organisational commitments to racial justice.
- Diversity & Inclusion accountability: Time and resources within job roles have been allocated for the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group who will play a leading role in our aspiration to be more diverse and an organisation in which everyone feels included and belongs
- Safe spaces: We are creating safe spaces for staff of colour and minority groups with the highest priority focused on strengthening safe spaces for Black staff.
- Recruitment review: We are reviewing our end to end recruitment processes. From considering whether the language we use in job posts is exclusive through to challenging ourselves on how jobs can be done.
- Campaign successes: We often work on the same issues as local partners or communities and we must do more to ensure that our investigations and campaign goals are formed with them in mind. We are beginning to report on how well a campaign includes local partners, how it amplifies voices, and how it supports the advocacy goals of local communities.
In July 2021 we will report on the progress we have made on these
commitments and how we have improved our working culture.
2020 certainly was a year of change, challenge and opportunity for Global Witness and its people. While the world remains unpredictable, complex and ambiguous, we entered 2021 with a sense of optimism and excitement about our place in the world.
Looking to the future - Seema Joshi, Director of Campaigns
Last year was a whirlwind for me. I took on the role of Director of Campaigns just as the UK went into lockdown for the first time. I’ve barely met my colleagues in person and have been introduced to Global Witness’s new campaigns through many, many hours of zoom calls! This is my second stint at the organisation, having worked some years ago on ending corporate impunity for abusive mining and timber trading practices linked to armed conflict. I have been inspired, excited and sometimes a little daunted by Global Witness’s decision to shift away from high impact, but ultimately regional or resource-specific campaigns, to focusing on the underlying and global causes of some of the biggest challenges facing the world; namely the climate crisis and the closure of civic space.
No longer content with bringing transparency to the oil and gas industry, we now want to end it and keep fossil fuels in the ground. Not satisfied with better oversight of logging companies, we now want to stop the deforestation of climate critical tropical forests and keep trees standing. Not comfortable with taking on one or two of the biggest and most powerful companies, we are now pushing for new laws to hold all corporations, including financial institutions, to account for their impact on the environment and infringements on human rights.
In this we join a growing movement of climate activists, community leaders, land and environmental defenders and young campaigners calling for an end to the global paralysis of world leaders in the face of the devastation being wrought by global warming.
Never has this work been more urgent. At the end of 2021, the next major climate summit, COP26, will be held in Glasgow. Ahead of this, Global Witness will be calling on policy-makers to finally confront the predatory economic model that is destroying the planet and take the bold political decisions needed to build a better, more sustainable future for generations to come.
At a basic level, that means governments rejecting advice or campaign funds from polluting fossil fuel companies, not sharing a platform with the banks financing deforestation, and calling out the greenwashing that allows companies to position themselves as ‘eco-friendly’ whilst not taking real action to address the fundamentals of their business model. We will be calling out the corporations that have spent decades – and millions of dollars – on research, PR campaigns and political influencing to distract us away from meaningful systemic change, cutting emissions and achieving 1.5 degrees of global warming. These actors will destroy our planet and humanity unless their power and influence are nullified as illegitimate. There should be no room for them at COP26, nor indeed at any discussion about the future of the global economy, the societies we hope to create, or the actions needed to stop the planet heating to unsustainable levels.
The summit needs to build the foundations for a new era where companies are held accountable for their impact on the environment and local communities unjustly impacted. At Global Witness, we will particularly be training our laser-like focus on the nefarious role of investors – big banks, funds and private investors alike – driving trillions of dollars into industries that damage the planet and undermine human rights abuses. Cutting off these sources of funding and pushing for them to be re-directed towards more ethical projects will be like removing a poisonous drip from a patient’s arm and replacing it with an antidote. It will allow nature to heal, giving space and power to those whose lives and livelihoods are linked to the protection of the land.
Ahead of the gathering of leaders in November, we will be working to ensure the voices of those most affected by the ongoing climate emergency, including land and environmental defenders and indigenous communities, are front and centre of the conversations about how we move forward.
Youth, women and vulnerable communities, including in the global South, are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. We will prioritise environmental justice as part of the global roadmap toward economic recovery and climate action. To uphold these ambitions, leaders and big business cannot ignore the power imbalance, inequities, and disproportionate human and social costs for communities that bear the brunt of continued oil and gas extraction, including through fossil fuel exports by major superpowers, as well as the toxic pollution emitted from processing facilities like export terminals.
For COP26 to make history, we need to see it lay the foundations for global change. This cannot be a moment for more of the same, empty promises, or vacuous statements that can’t be backed up with immediate action.
Looking across the issues Global Witness is campaigning on, and which gained such momentum in 2020, we will now work to lift our sights even higher, setting new ambitions for the organisation. In 2021, we will be striving towards:
- Ending unaccountable corporate power so that illegitimate actors can no longer detract us from hitting 1.5 degrees Celsius
- Ending investment with impunity by cutting off access to financing for projects and industries devastating the planet and undermining human rights. In parallel, we will look to promote investment moving to real, impactful and equitable solutions at a global level
- Democratising the debate on the future of our planet
- Keeping fossil fuels in the ground
- Protecting civic freedoms, countering the spread of hate, polarisation and disinformation
- Championing a just and equitable transition to meet the Paris Climate Goals
- Advancing our values, leading and aligning with global partners and social movements on climate justice
We know we can’t achieve change on our own. Collaboration will be at the heart of everything we do. We are incredibly grateful to the many individuals and organisations who went before us and forged a path to victory through environmental activism and climate campaigning, as well as those who now support our work and share our mission. It’s a long road ahead to secure the action needed to save the planet and its people, but I know 2021 will see Global Witness’s contribution to this all-important goal grow even further.
Thank you to all our supporters
Global Witness is a non-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of our supporters and partners to continue our tireless investigations, exposés and advocacy. Without your support, the victories we have won against conflict finance, corruption, human rights abuses and environmental destruction would never have been achieved.
The devastating impacts of the climate crisis are becoming ever starker and more difficult to ignore. We have shifted our approach to address the crisis more directly at hand. In the coming years, we will bring our investigative, campaigning and communications skills to uncover the role corporations and financial institutions are playing in undermining efforts to stop climate change and their attempts to muddy the waters on what will make a difference in the protection of our planet. On fossil fuels, our focus will be on ending the myth that fossil gas is the answer to the climate crisis. We will work to end the ongoing decimation of climate-critical tropical forests completely. We will work to end the killing of land and environmental defenders, address the underlying causes of attacks against them, and ensure those who commit or are complicit in violence against them face the full force of national or international law. We will campaign for a corporate accountability law that enshrines a set of global standards that can be enforced to ensure the future of our planet is safeguarded from rapacious profit-makers and investors
Thank you for your continued support and for helping us protect our global climate and environment for future generations, while safeguarding people’s rights to their land and livelihoods.
- The Adessium Foundation
- The Alexander Soros Foundation
- Arcadia Fund – a charitable trust of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin
- Arcus Foundation
- Arnhold Foundation
- Ashden Trust
- Brook Foundation
- CHARISMA Stiftung für nachhaltige Entwicklung
- Climate Change Collaboration
- (Mark Leonard Trust, Ashden Trust and JJ Charitable Trust)
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland
- Don Quixote Foundation
- The Edward Hoare Charitable Fund
- European Climate Foundation
- Evan Cornish Foundation
- Ford Foundation
- The Foundation to Promote Open Society
- The Frederick Mulder Foundation
- Henocq Law Trust
- The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation
- Humanity United Action
- Hopewell Fund
- Jane Thurnell-Read
- The Kestrelman Trust
- Mike Servent
- The Minor Foundation for Major Challenges
- Nationale Postcode Loterij
- Northern Trust Corporation
- Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD)
- Oak Foundation
- Postcode Planet Trust, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery
- The Reed Foundation
- Seattle International Foundation
- Silicon Valley Community Foundation
- Skoll Foundation
- Swedish Postcode Foundation
- Taylour Foundation
- Tilia Fund
- UK DFID- Forests, Governance, Market and Climate Programme
- Wallace Global Fund
- The Waterloo Foundation
- The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
- Wyn & Ken Lo Memorial Foundation
*These are the donors that have given their consent to have their gift acknowledged in our Annual Report.
Board of Directors
- Patrick Alley
- Chinmayi Arun (resigned
- 10 December 2020)
- Gabrielle Darbyshire
- Charmian Gooch
- Mark Hannam (resigned
- 21 September 2020)
- Fatima Hassan
- Juana Kweitel (Chair- appointed March 2021)
- Mark Stephens CBE (resigned
- 22 September 2020)
- Simon Taylor
- Advisory Council
- Bennett Freeman
- Misha Glenny
- Victor Lopez Illescas
- Camille Massey
- Bandi Mbubi
- Arlene McCarthy OBE
- Christopher Mitchell
- Aryeh Neier (Honorary chair)
- Anita Ramasastry
- Silas Siakor
- Mabel Van Oranje (Chair)
- Edward Zwick
Trustees of Global Witness Trust (UK)
- Jeremy Bristow
- Caroline Digby
- Christopher Mitchell (Chair)
- Tony Stevenson
Directors of Global Witness Foundation (US)
- Patrick Alley
- Bennett Freeman
- Stafford Matthews (President)
Income and expenditure statement
- for the year ended 31 December (in £ thousands)
The summarised financial statements are extracted from the full statutory directors’ annual report and financial statements which were approved by the directors and signed on their behalf on 4 May 2021. These summarised financial statements may not contain sufficient information to gain a complete
understanding of the financial affairs of Global Witness. View the full statutory directors’ report, financial statements and auditor’s report
Standard indexGlobal Witness campaigns to end environmental and human rights abuses driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system.
In the run-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, UK, we urge world leaders to deliver climate action by changing the system
Campaign HubFind out how we achieved systemic change last year and in previous years - by downloading or viewing our annual reviews online.
Find out more about Global Witness's Governance structure.
View Global Witness's latest Financial Statements and Form 990.