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Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples comprise less than 5% of the world’s population but represent about 15% of the world’s poor and remain especially vulnerable to displacement, violence and human rights abuses.

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Contextual Risk Factors

Several underlying factors drive indigenous rights violations, including the following:

  • Inadequate legal framework and weak government policy offer poor protections for indigenous peoples. Some countries fail to recognize indigenous identity altogether or ignore specific indigenous concerns or ways of life, leading to infringements on indigenous rights. Even in countries where there are specific legislative protections, they may be inadequate in that they recognize some aspects of indigenous rights but not others. The absence of regulations to implement consultations with indigenous peoples in development projects that take place in traditional lands, for instance, has legal implications for private sector actors operating in countries that have ratified ILO Convention No. 169.
  • Weak enforcement of indigenous rights laws due to a poor understanding of these laws and indigenous cultures, inadequate training or resources, and conflicting economic and political priorities. High levels of corruption may also contribute to indigenous rights violations, for example, in issuing land permits in traditional indigenous areas. In addition, a lack of understanding of indigenous peoples’ rights among various stakeholders, including local or national policymakers, the wider public and private sector actors, contributes to ongoing prejudice and discrimination against indigenous communities. For instance, deep-rooted and widespread marginalization faced by indigenous peoples is a key factor behind the disproportionately high number of indigenous peoples in custody in some countries.
  • Failure to comply with the duty to consult indigenous peoples is another key risk factor. While countries may recognize some aspects of indigenous rights, specific laws that guarantee the right to be consulted with are not widespread. Consultations with indigenous peoples should take place through appropriate procedures that foster a climate of mutual trust. Engagement must ensure that indigenous peoples have all the relevant information and sufficient time to allow them to engage their own decision-making processes and participate effectively in decisions taken, in a manner consistent with their cultural and social traditions. Without such guarantees, there is a higher risk of indigenous rights violations.
  • Conflicting priorities between disparate local community stakeholders run the risk of strengthening existing tensions or antagonizing portions of the population. In many cases, local communities may consist of both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Differing priorities between competing groups, for example on infrastructure projects, have the potential to result in conflict if not managed carefully by companies.
  • Poor environment for land rights where traditional indigenous lands are poorly documented and/or ambiguous. Insecure land tenure due to lack of recognition of indigenous traditional land tenure, land grabbing and forced displacement, or lack of clear land titles increase the risk of land conflict.
  • A poor environment for civil and political rights can also threaten indigenous rights. The risk of indigenous rights violations tends to be higher in repressive countries where, for example, the civic space is shrinking and indigenous human rights and environment defenders face reprisals and retaliation. In some countries, socio-environmental conflicts may result in abuses by security forces or the militarization of indigenous territories.
  • Lack of institutional culture or specialist skills within businesses may hinder meaningful relationships with indigenous groups. Establishing effective engagement may be even more challenging given a wide range of indigenous governance structures.