Global Witness

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Global Witness
Founded1993 in London
FocusNatural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses.
  • London and Washington, D.C.

Global Witness is an international NGO established in 1993 that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide. The organisation has offices in London and Washington, D.C.

Global Witness states that it does not have any political affiliation. Mike Davis has been the organisation's CEO since 2020.[1][2]


External videos
video icon Charmian Gooch: Meet global corruption's hidden players, TED Talks, July 8, 2013

Global Witness states that its goals are to expose the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, to drive campaigns that end impunity, resource linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses.[3] The organisation explores how diamonds and other natural resources can fund conflict or fuel corruption. It carries out investigations into the involvement of specific individuals and business entities in activities such as illegal and unsustainable forest exploitation, and corruption in oil, gas and mining industries.[4]

Global Witness' methodology combines investigative research, publishing reports and conducting advocacy campaigns. Reports are disseminated to governments, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and the media. This is intended to shape global policy and change international thinking about the extraction and trading of natural resources and the impacts that corrupt and unsustainable exploitation can have upon development, human rights and geopolitical and economic stability.[5]


Global Witness has worked on diamonds, oil, timber, cocoa, gas, gold and other minerals. It has undertaken investigations and case studies in Cambodia, Angola, Liberia, DR Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, Burma, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan and Ivory Coast. It has also helped to set up international initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative,[6][7] the Kimberley Process,[8][9] and the Publish What You Pay coalition.[10] (Global Witness withdrew from the Kimberley Process in 2011, saying it is no longer working.[11])

The organization's first campaign involved work against the trade of illegal timber between Cambodia and Thailand which was funding the Khmer Rouge guerrillas.[12]

Global Witness argues that natural resources can be, and have been, exploited to fund armies and militias who murder, rape, and commit other human rights abuses against civilians. It says that "natural resources can potentially be used to negotiate and maintain peace"[13] and "could be the key to ending Africa's poverty".[3]

The organisation campaigns to protect human rights defenders targeted because of their work to prevent natural resource exploitation. An investigation by Global Witness in April 2014 revealed there were nearly three times as many environmental defenders killed in 2012 than 10 years previously. Global Witness documented 147 deaths in 2012, compared to 51 in 2002. In Brazil, 448 activists defending natural resources were killed between 2002 and 2013, in Honduras 109, Peru 58, the Philippines 67, and Thailand 16. Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation. Others have been killed for protests over hydroelectric dams, pollution and wildlife conservation.[14] By 2019, Global Witness were documenting 212 such deaths in the year.[15]


Global Witness's first campaign was in Cambodia in the 1990s where the Khmer Rouge was smuggling timber into Thailand. The Observer newspaper attributed the cessation to Global Witness's "detailed and accurate reporting".[16]

After a report implicating relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials, the prime minister's brother, Hun Neng, a provincial governor, was quoted in a Cambodian newspaper as saying if anyone from Global Witness returned to Cambodia, he would "hit them until their heads are broken."[17] In 2009, Global Witness released Country for Sale,[18] a report on corruption in the allocation of Cambodia's natural resource licenses. In 2010 the report, Shifting Sand, was published. It examined sand dredging for export to Singapore. The report claimed that the trade was "monopolised by two prominent Cambodian senators with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen".[19]

Conflict diamonds and Sierra Leone[edit]

In 1998 Global Witness released the report, A Rough Trade: The Role of Companies and Governments in the Angolan Conflict,[20] describing the role of the international diamond trade in funding the Angolan Civil War.

As part of its campaign against conflict diamonds, Global Witness helped establish the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KCPS). The international governmental certification scheme was set up to stop to trade in blood diamonds, requiring governments to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict-free.[21] Like many other Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, Sierra Leone is endowed with oil and mineral resources amid social inequality, high prevalence of poverty, and conflict.[22]

Under rebel movements headed by Charles Taylor, who dominated the diamond industry, diamonds were being traded for guns with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).[23] This rebel group alone earned as much as US$125 m. In 1998, Global Witness stated that diamonds were spurring those conflicts. Backed by investigation done by the UN in 2000, it was then verified that the gems were being smuggled out of eastern Sierra Leone through Liberia, and subsequently into the international market.[citation needed] Sanctions were later imposed by the UN on Liberian diamonds in March 2001.

On July 19, 2000, the World Diamond Congress adopted at Antwerp a resolution to reinforce the diamond industry's ability to block sales of conflict diamonds.[24] Thereafter, with growing international pressure from Global Witness and other NGOs, meetings were hosted with diamond-producing countries over three years, concluding in the establishment of an international diamond certification scheme in January 2003. The certification system on the export and import of diamonds, known as the KCPS, was called by the resolution, imposing legislation in all countries to accept shipment of only officially sealed packages of diamonds accompanied by a KP certificate guaranteeing that they were conflict-free. Anyone found trafficking conflict diamonds will be indicted of criminal charges, while bans were to be imposed on individuals found trading those stones from diamond bourses under the World Federation of Diamond Bourses.

The Kimberley Process (KP) in Sierra Leone was efficient in limiting the flow of conflict diamonds. More importantly, the KP assisted in restoring peace and security in the lives of these people, and, by creating stability in these environments, it spurred their development. It was successful at channelling larger amounts of diamonds into the international market, boosting government revenues, and consequently aiding in tackling development concerns. In 2006, an estimated US$125 m worth of diamonds were legally exported from Sierra Leone, compared to almost none in the 1990s.[21]

Despite its success, nine years later, on 5 December 2011, Global Witness announced that it has left the KP, stating that the scheme's main flaws have not been mended as governments no longer continue to show interest in reform.[25]

Oil, gas, and mining[edit]

Global Witness campaigns for greater transparency in the oil, gas, and mining sectors. It is a founding member of the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition, which advocates "the mandatory disclosure of company payments and government revenues from the oil, gas, and mining sector". Over 300 civil society groups worldwide are member of PWYP. Other PWYP founders include CAFOD, Oxfam, Save the Children UK, Transparency International UK, and George Soros, Chairman of the Open Society Institute.

Global Witness helped establish the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which was announced by then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002 and formally endorsed by the World Bank in December 2003. The EITI is a result of the efforts of the PWYP campaigners. It is now supported by a majority of the world's oil, mining and gas companies and institutional investors, in total worth US$8.3 trillion.[26] Global Witness is a member of the EITI International Advisory Group and sits on the EITI board.

Democratic Republic of Congo[edit]

Global Witness is active on a range of issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Their website section on DRC reads, "Politicians, military and militia groups have plundered the country's natural wealth and used it to enrich themselves at the detriment of the population."[27] Global Witness has lobbied the UK government and the UN Security Council to stop the trade in minerals fuelling war in eastern Congo.

Global Witness defines conflict resources as "natural resources whose systematic exploitation and trade in a context of conflict contribute to, benefit from or result in the commission of serious violations of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law or violations amounting to crimes under international law."[28]


Global Witness has produced reports on how timber helped to fund the civil war in Liberia and also looked at timber smuggling from Burma into China.[29] In 2010, Global Witness launched a court case in France against DLH, a company that they allege bought timber from Liberian companies during the civil war between 2001 and 2003, thereby providing support to Charles Taylor's regime.[30]

Global Witness describes forests as the "last bastion against climate change", with deforestation accounting for 18 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions.[31] On UN efforts to broker a deal on "Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation" (REDD) Global Witness said: "REDD carries considerable risks for forests and local communities and will only succeed if civil society is engaged as an independent watchdog to ensure that the money is used in accordance with national laws and international guidelines."[32]

Global Witness criticized the World Bank-endorsed approach of encouraging industrial export-based logging as a means to economic growth in developing countries, which, it argues, has been repeatedly shown to fail. Instead, Global Witness advocates management strategies that benefit the communities that are dependent on forests, their home countries, the environment, and treats forests as an "international asset".[31]


Anonymous companies[edit]

Global Witness campaigns against anonymous companies and for registers of beneficial ownership. Anonymous companies are a legal business practice but can be used for purposes such as laundering money from criminal activity, financing terrorism, or evading taxes.[33]


In 2009 Global Witness launched a campaign on the role of banks in facilitating corruption. Its report, Undue Diligence,[34] names some of the major banks that have done business with corrupt regimes. It argues that "by accepting these customers, banks are assisting those who are using state assets to enrich themselves or brutalise their own people" and that "this corruption denies the world's poorest people the chance to lift themselves out of poverty and leaves them dependent on aid."[34]

Global Witness is on the Coordinating Committee of Taskforce on Financial Integrity and Economic Development, and is a member of BankTrack, and the UNCAC Coalition of Civil Society Organisations. In May 2009, Global Witness employee, Anthea Lawson, testified before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee on "Capital Loss, Corruption and the Role of Western Financial Institutions".[35] In a letter to The Guardian dated 9 February 2010, Ms Lawson accused UK banks of "demonstrated complicity" in corruption.[36]


Global Witness has campaigned for transparency in Sudan's oil industry. Global Witness published Fuelling Mistrust in June 2009, a report that detailed discrepancies of up to 26 percent between the production figures published by the Sudanese government and those published by the main oil company operating in the region, CNPC. A peace deal between the north and the south was predicated on an agreement to share the revenues from oil.[37]

Zimbabwe diamonds[edit]

In June 2010, Global Witness criticized Zimbabwe for large-scale human rights abuses committed in the Marange diamond fields. It published a report Return of the Blood Diamond which criticised the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme for repeatedly failing to react effectively to the crisis in Zimbabwe.[38] In July 2010 Tendai Midzi, writing in The Zimbabwe Guardian, accused Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada of being "but a figment of the western governments they represent".[39]


Global Witness exposed corruption in land deals within the administration of Taib Mahmud, the chief minister of the state of Sarawak in Malaysia through the video titled "Inside Malaysia's Shadow State."[40] The video featured footage of conversations with relatives of Taib and their lawyer where Global Witness agents posed as potential investors.[41]

2020: 227 environmental activists killed worldwide[edit]

In 2019, Global Witness recorded the murders of 212 environmental activists, making it the worst year since this recording process began, in 2012.[15] This was up from the number of 197 killed in 2018.[42] 2020 saw a further rise in cases, with 227 killed.[43]

Honors and awards[edit]

Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada were jointly nominated by U.S. House of Representatives and Senate members for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for work on links between conflict and diamonds in several African countries.[citation needed]

  • Winner of the Gleitsman Foundation prize for international activism (2005)[44]
  • Winner of the Center for Global Development/Foreign Policy Magazine Commitment to Development Ideas in Action Award (2007)
  • Recipient of the Allard Prize for International Integrity (2013 Honourable Mention)[45]
  • Charmian Gooch, one of the three founding Directors of Global Witness, was awarded the Ted Prize in 2014. Her stated Wish was 'for us to know who owns and controls companies, so that they can no longer be used anonymously against the public good. Let's ignite world opinion, change the law, and together launch a new era of openness in business.'[46]
  • Winner of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship 2014[47][48][49]
  • Co-winner of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation's 2021 David and Goliath Award, for the successful campaign to stop the UK Government's multi-billion financing for fossil fuels overseas. Global Witness campaigner Adam McGibbon coordinated the campaign.[50][51]


The majority of Global Witness funding comes from grants made by foundations, governments, and charities.[52] One of their main benefactors is the Open Society Institute, which also funds Human Rights Watch.[53] Global Witness also receives money from the Norwegian and British governments, the Adessium Foundation,[54] and Oxfam Novib.

In the UK, Global Witness Trust is a registered charity supporting the work of Global Witness.[55]

In an interview in The Guardian in 2007, Patrick Alley, one of the founding directors, rejected the claim that receiving money from governments could bias their campaigns: "Being campaign-led, rather than funding-led, means that our independence is never comprised," he argued. "The Department for Trade and Industry did once ask if we'd like to sign a confidentiality clause. We said we wouldn't take the funding under those conditions. No other government has ever tried to impose any restrictions."[56]

From December 2008 to November 2009 Global Witness's income was £3,831,831. Of this, approximately 61 percent came in the form of grants from private trusts and foundations, 33 percent from governments, three percent from multi-lateral and non governmental organisations, and three percent from bank interest and other sources. Global Witness says it spends 75 percent of its funds on campaigns, seven percent on communication and fundraising, and 18 percent on support and governance.[57] GW's annual report for 2021 showed the NGO's annual income falling from £11.4 to £10.1 million from 2020-2021.[58]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Meet our CEO Mike Davis". Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  2. ^ "The Oil Heist of the Century – Skoll World Forum ... 'Chaired by: Mike Davis – CEO, Global Witness'". 21 April 2020. Archived from the original on 2021-12-14. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  3. ^ a b Mark Boulton Design. "Global Witness about_us". Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  4. ^ "Global Witness quits Kimberley Process as Zimbabwe 'blood diamonds' exported". 6 December 2011. Retrieved 2022-10-18.
  5. ^ Mark Boulton Design. "Global Witness – Home page". Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  6. ^ "Stakeholders". Archived from the original on 2015-06-24. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
  7. ^ "EITI Blog: The first session". 3 March 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  8. ^ Cauvin, Henri E. (30 Nov 2001). "Plan Backed to End Diamond Trade That Fuels War". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 January 2020. This week's final round of talks, here in the capital of this peaceful mining country, were the culmination of negotiations that began in May 2000 in Kimberley, South Africa, and have come to be called the Kimberley Process.
  9. ^ "Working Groups". Kimberley Process. Archived from the original on 2009-12-16. Retrieved 2020-01-12. The Kimberley Process (KP) unites administrations, civil societies, and industry in reducing the flow of conflict diamonds - 'rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments' - around the world.
  10. ^ "About". Publish What You Pay. Retrieved 12 January 2020. With more than 700 member organisations and 50 national coalitions, we campaign for an open and accountable extractive sector.
  11. ^ Eligon, John (5 December 2011). "Global Witness Quits Group on 'Blood Diamonds'". NY Times. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  12. ^ "Our History". September 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-09-02. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  13. ^ "GlobalWitness Annual Review 2009" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-09-28.
  14. ^ "Surge in deaths of environmental activists over past decade, report finds". The Guardian. 14 April 2014.
  15. ^ a b "Environment activists: 'I got death and rape threats'". 17 September 2020. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  16. ^ John Sweeney (26 March 2000). "Last outpost of the Khmer Rouge". Observer Newspaper, "Going Underground". ...lawless mining town of Pailin. John Sweeney visits the town and discovers corruption... Global Witness closed down the illegal logging trade between western Cambodia, the area around Pailin controlled by the KR, and Thailand, thanks to its detailed and accurate reporting.
  17. ^ "The dangers for journalists who expose environmental issues" (PDF). Reporters Without Borders. September 2009. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-03-31.
  18. ^ "Country for Sale". Archived from the original on 2009-02-08.
  19. ^ Global Witness, Shifting Sand, how Singapore's demand for Cambodian sand threatens ecosystems and undermines good governance, May 2010
  20. ^ A Rough Trade. Global Witness. 1998. ISBN 0952759357.
  21. ^ a b "The Kimberley Process". 1 April 2013. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  22. ^ Omeje, K., eds. Extractive Economies and Conflicts in the Global South Multi Regional Perspectives on Rentier Politics. Hampshire/Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2008.
  23. ^ "History of the Conflict". Archived from the original on 2012-02-28. Retrieved 2012-02-24.
  24. ^ "World Diamond Council website". Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  25. ^ "Global Witness leaves Kimberley Process, calls for diamond trade to be held accountable". 2 December 2011. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  26. ^ "News & Broadcast - WBG Endorses Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative". Archived from the original on 2007-02-20. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  27. ^ "Democratic Republic of Congo". September 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-09-02.
  28. ^ "Conflict". June 2010. Archived from the original on June 2, 2010.
  29. ^ "Timber, Taylor, Soldier, Spy". September 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  30. ^ "Bankrolling Brutality - Why European timber company DLH should be held to account for profiting from Liberian conflict timber". November 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  31. ^ a b "Forests". September 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-09-12. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  32. ^ "Corruption could undermine REDD". Mongabay. 3 June 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  33. ^ "Charmian Gooch: anonymous company ownership is fuelling corruption". Wired. 17 October 2014. Archived from the original on 2016-05-07. Retrieved 2017-08-29.
  34. ^ a b "Undue Diligence: How banks do business with corrupt regimes". March 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  35. ^ "Committee on Financial Services, US House of Representatives, 111th Congress, First Session" (PDF). May 19, 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 20, 2010. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  36. ^ "Letters: Banks, tax havens and corruption". The Guardian. London. 9 February 2010.
  37. ^ "Fuelling Mistrust: The need for transparency in Sudan's oil industry". 7 September 2009. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  38. ^ "Return of the blood diamond: how the crisis in Zimbabwe is undermining international efforts to eradicate conflict diamonds". June 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  39. ^ "Kimberley Process - the new colonial project". July 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  40. ^ "Inside Malaysia's Shadow State". Global Witness. 19 March 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  41. ^ "Taib denies cousins his land brokers, says he goes by government procedures". The Star Online. 19 March 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-03-22. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  42. ^ "New data reveals 197 land and environmental defenders murdered in 2017". 2 February 2018. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  43. ^ "Record number of environmental activists murdered". 13 September 2021. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  44. ^ "2005 International Activist Award Honorees". October 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-10-18. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  45. ^ "Global Witness 2013 Honourable Mention". Allard Prize for International Integrity. Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  46. ^ "TED Prize winner Charmian Gooch reveals her wish at TED2014 - TED Blog". TED Blog. 18 March 2014. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  47. ^ "The Skoll Foundation Announces Seven 2014 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship (search year 2014)". Archived from the original on 7 February 2022. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  48. ^ "The Skoll Foundation Announces Seven 2014 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship". 5 March 2014. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  49. ^ "Global Witness -see video". Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  50. ^ "UK Overseas Fossil Fuels Campaign > Sheila McKechnie Foundation". Sheila McKechnie Foundation. Retrieved 2021-09-26.
  51. ^ Corr, Shauna (2021-05-13). "Belfast man wins award for convincing UK Government to stop funding fossil fuels". BelfastLive. Retrieved 2021-09-26.
  52. ^ "Our supporters". Archived from the original on 2010-09-02.
  53. ^ "Open Society Foundations". Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  54. ^ "Adessium". Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  55. ^ "Global Witness Trust, registered charity no. 1117844". Charity Commission for England and Wales.
  56. ^ Benjamin, Alison (31 January 2007). "Rough diamonds". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  57. ^ "Global Witness Annual Report, 2009, Financial Information" (PDF). p. 27. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-09-02.
  58. ^ "Annual report 2021: our case for change". Global Witness. Retrieved 2022-10-18.

External links[edit]