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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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Industry-specific Risk Factors

While challenges to protecting or securing indigenous peoples’ rights are present in many industries, the following sectors present particularly significant levels of risk: agriculture/agribusiness, infrastructure and extractives, which are outlined in detail below. However, indigenous peoples are also impacted by other sectors, including tourism and travel. To identify potential risk factors for other industries, companies can access the CSR Risk Check.

Agriculture/Agribusiness

According to the UN, indigenous peoples are particularly impacted by large-scale agriculture development projects that are implemented without their free, prior and informed consent.

Agriculture-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Encroachment onto indigenous land: As a land-intensive industry, agricultural or agribusiness development projects have the potential to encroach on indigenous land. Failure to understand indigenous-specific rights, such as their rights over their traditional lands and territories, or the principle of FPIC, is common, particularly when operating in countries with poor indigenous rights’ protections or legal standards.
  • Remoteness of projects: Projects often take place in remote or low governance areas. Due to the geographical isolation of many indigenous areas, it is often difficult for indigenous peoples to access justice or remedy when confronted with abuses of their human rights, such as illegal encroaching, land grabbing or forced displacement.
  • Subsidies: High export subsidies and domestic support provided to agribusiness corporations have resulted in the loss of livelihoods for many indigenous communities. For example, the UN notes that indigenous corn producers in Mexico have experienced the loss of livelihood due to the dumping of cheap, highly subsidized corn from the USA.
Helpful Resources
  • International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), How To Do: Seeking Free, Prior and Informed Consent in IFAD Investment Projects: This resource was developed by UN agency IFAD to provide agricultural sector companies with ideas on how to obtain FPIC from local communities.
  • OECD-FAO, Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains: This guidance provides a common framework to help agri-businesses and investors support sustainable development, including a specific section on how to engage with indigenous communities in support of this goal.
  • UN-FAO, Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Lands, Fisheries and Forests: These guidelines can be used by the private sector to assess tenure governance, including that of indigenous land, and how to identify improvements and apply them.
  • Fairtrade International, Guide for Smallholder Farmer Organisations – Implementing Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD): This guidance was developed to provide advice and tools on HREDD for farmer organisations to implement. It includes risk assessment indicators developed to address specific concerns faced by indigenous peoples.

Infrastructure

The UN reports that mega infrastructure projects such as large dams have disproportionately impacted indigenous peoples. Large hydropower dams, road and rail infrastructure and power lines have resulted in the loss of indigenous land and livelihood, cultural loss and human rights abuses.

Infrastructure-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Drive for clean or renewable energy: The push for clean or renewable energy has been reported to drive human rights violations, including against indigenous peoples. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre states that following an increase in investment in renewable energy in the aftermath of the Paris climate agreement and the launch of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, allegations of human rights abuses linked to renewable projects have been rising. Inadequate human rights due diligence and impact assessment procedures are behind many such allegations. For example, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre reported that nearly a quarter (24%) of abuses against social rights and livelihoods in Mexico are linked to the solar industry.
  • Health risks: Hydroelectric projects have been linked to serious health risks, negatively impacting indigenous communities living in proximity to such developments. A 2016 Harvard study found that when dams are built for hydroelectric projects, naturally occurring mercury in soils is converted into methylmercury, a toxin linked to deterioration in water quality. This water pollution is then linked to serious health risks such as cardiovascular disease and neurodevelopmental delays in children.
  • Safety concerns: Infrastructure projects have also been linked to other safety concerns. For example, Minority Rights Group reported that in 2018, water released from a hydroelectric project on the river Doyang in Nagaland, India, flooded 10,000 hectares and affected thousands of people, many of whom were indigenous, by destroying their houses, factories and fields. Hydroelectric projects have also been linked to landslides.
  • Road projects: New road construction projects have also been linked to indigenous rights violations. The Trans-Papua Highway project, a 2,700-mile road network built across West Papua in Indonesia is one such example. The massive infrastructure project is a key driver of ongoing conflict and deforestation, with no consultation held with indigenous Papuan groups. Civil society groups reported that the infrastructure project is unlikely to benefit indigenous Papuans, but instead threatens their economic well-being.
Helpful Resources
  • Hydropower Sustainability, Guidelines on Good International Practice: These guidelines define performance expectations for hydropower projects. They provide assessment and management criteria specific to hydropower projects involving indigenous peoples.
  • Indigenous Peoples Major Group, Sustainable Energy and Indigenous Peoples: This report examines the relation between SDG7 on ensuring access to sustainable energy and indigenous peoples’ rights. It also looks at international human rights law and the UN Guiding Principles as key guidance for sustainable energy producers.
  • Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Investor Briefing: Renewable Energy Impacts on Communities: This briefing sets out how investors can manage their human rights risks and responsibilities related to their investments in renewable energy. It also outlines specific steps investors can take to manage these risks prior to and during investment.
  • OHCHR, The Other Infrastructure Gap: Sustainability: This report analyses the potential gains from integrating human rights and environmental dimensions of sustainability explicitly within mega-infrastructure plans and projects, as well as the cost of failing to do so, drawing from project experience in the energy, transportation and water sectors.

Mining and the Extractives Industry

The extractives sector has frequently been linked to indigenous rights violations. High-profile cases have seen egregious human rights violations, including the use of lethal force or targeted killings of indigenous activists or human rights defenders. Forced displacement of indigenous communities has resulted in prolonged conflict and societal upheaval.

Extractives-specific risk factors include the following:

  • Cultural rights impacted: Since mining operations are often located in or close to indigenous lands, they have the potential to impact the cultural rights of indigenous peoples — see case study on Rio Tinto and Juukan Gorge.
  • Mining waste: Improper management or disposal of mining waste has led to contamination of water, livelihood destruction and displacement of indigenous communities. Structural issues with tailings dams (e.g. collapses) disproportionately impact indigenous communities who then face the worst effects of environmental damage and degradation of lands that are necessary for their material or cultural survival.
  • Water use: The vast amount of water required in mining operations may result in water shortages faced by indigenous communities and affect their livelihoods, including their own agriculture. Lithium mining operations in Chile’s Atacama Desert, for example, have negatively impacted indigenous peoples’ customs and farming. Similar to land, water may have spiritual and cultural value to indigenous peoples. As a result, the industry’s heavy reliance on water may lead to infringement of indigenous rights to traditional lands, territories and resources.
  • Security forces: The use of both public and private security forces in guarding mine sites, particularly in countries where they are known to resort to violent or repressive measures, puts indigenous communities at high risk of serious human rights abuses. Indigenous peoples have been targeted for killingstorture, arbitrary arrest and intimidation by security forces for voicing their opposition to mining operations in their traditional lands.
Helpful Resources
  • International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), Good Practice Guide: Indigenous Peoples and Mining: This guide was designed for metals and mining companies to build strong and mutually beneficial relationships with indigenous peoples. The resource provides practical tools and case studies on engagement and indigenous participation, managing impacts, agreements and dealing with grievances.
  • Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), Standards Guidance: This guidance provides a suggested approach for RJC members to implement the mandatory requirements of the RJC Code of Practice, including specific considerations on indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • IPIECA, Indigenous Peoples and the Oil and Gas Industry: Context, Issues and Emerging Good Practice: This document provides insight into the interaction between oil and gas companies and indigenous peoples, and what companies should consider when operating in indigenous areas.
  • IPIECA, Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) Toolbox: This resource was developed to provide companies with an understanding of what the practice of FPIC looks like in its implementation across a range of regional and country contexts.
  • IPIECA, Community Liaison Officers Team Building and Management Guidance: This resource was developed to assist community relations managers in planning their community liaison teams and recruiting community liaison officers (CLOs). It includes considerations specific to indigenous communities.
  • DCAF, Indigenous Peoples Fact sheet, Security and Human Rights Toolkit: This factsheet details how to ensure effective security and human rights risk mitigation for indigenous people.
  • DCAF, ICRC, GCBHR, Impacts of Company Operations on the Security of Communities: This page provides guidance on how to prevent and address impacts of security on indigenous communities.