Forestry and agriculture lag behind other sectors in their response to indigenous rights issues
A new report looks at the challenges and opportunities faced by companies operating in areas where the rights of indigenous peoples are threatened.
Ethical Investment Research Services (EIRIS) and the Centre for Australian Ethical Research (CAER) released the joint report, which also looks at the measures companies are implementing to address indigenous and land rights issues.
Globally, there are estimated to be up to 500m indigenous peoples in more than 70 countries around the world representing over 5,000 languages and cultures on every continent.
EIRIS said companies engaging in activities that may infringe the rights of indigenous peoples, as enshrined within the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, face increasing reputational risks potentially leading to issues around access to capital, damage to brand, licence to operate, and operational risks such as the threat of litigation and increased regulation.
“Indigenous rights are a human rights issue that both companies and their investors are waking up to
Stephanie Maier, head of research at EIRIS
The report examines the policies and strategies adopted by seven large companies for whom the issue of indigenous rights to land and sea is identified by EIRIS to be a potential business risk. The research finds that whilst some companies are addressing indigenous rights issues, none of the companies researched are going far enough:
Among the key findings:
• Most companies examined demonstrate a basic public commitment to indigenous rights and a commitment to meaningful consultation
• Of the high risk sectors analysed, extractive industries such as oil and gas and mining are most likely to demonstrate a response; sectors such as forestry and agriculture lag behind in their response
“The recent adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by 143 countries as members of UN General Assembly, sends a clear signal that as international standards evolve companies will increasingly be brought into the spotlight and their actions scrutinised
Christal George, corporate ethics researcher at CAER
• Few companies are clearly committed to achieving free, prior and informed consent (without manipulation of coercion) for all projects or are effectively managing the engagement and consent process
• The quality of reporting on indigenous rights issues is generally poor, with most companies providing a response to any allegations of breaches of indigenous rights but few reporting voluntarily on areas of non-compliance
Stephanie Maier, head of research at EIRIS, said: “Given the level of NGO and media attention to the issue of indigenous peoples’ rights and the introduction of more rigorous laws and regulations in many countries, those companies with strong commitments and effective engagement processes will undoubtedly benefit in an environment where access to land and resources is becoming increasingly difficult. Indigenous rights are a human rights issue that both companies and their investors are waking up to” she continued.
Christal George, corporate ethics researcher at CAER said: “The recent adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by 143 countries as members of UN General Assembly, sends a clear signal that as international standards evolve companies will increasingly be brought into the spotlight and their actions scrutinised. Companies which are committed to achieving free, prior and informed consent for all their projects are not only best placed to mitigate risk but also able to benefit from indigenous knowledge and expertise”.