Who are Indigenous Peoples?

Approximately 370 million indigenous people live in 90 countries around the world. While indigenous peoples exist in every region, 70% of them live in Asia. Some prominent examples of indigenous peoples are the Inuit of the Arctic, Native Americans, the Maasai in East Africa or the tribal people in the Philippines.

A universal definition of indigenous peoples does not exist, but there are several characteristics that can help to identify them:

1) They often live in small populations.

2) In many cases, they have their own languages — 4000 languages are spoken today by indigenous peoples.

3) They practice characteristic cultural traditions.

4) They have (or had) own land or territory, which is valuable to them in many ways.

5) They self-identify as indigenous.

Why are Indigenous People important in the context of responsible business?

Many of the world’s resources grow on indigenous peoples’ territory. Indigenous people have often not taken advantage of the national socio-economic development and their rights are in various cases not sufficiently safeguarded through the law.

All these factors make indigenous people more affected by the economic and social impacts of business operations. Business areas that are of specific importance in relation to the lives of indigenous people are tourism, mining, oil, gas and the production of agro-commodities.

Prominent issues include a lack of participation and involvement in the planning of business operations, inadequate consultation related to business projects and the lack of legal recognition of land ownership.

In order to protect indigenous people and minimize the legal, operational, financial and reputational risk of the business, it is important to ensure that indigenous people’s rights are respected.

How can businesses ensure that the rights of indigenous people are respected?

Primarily, a brand should implement a formal policy or a human rights policy which specifically points to the fact that the brand is committed towards protecting indigenous people’s rights.

Before engaging in operations in a country, a brand should also conduct due diligence, which means among others assessing how indigenous peoples could be impacted by the company’s activities. These findings should be integrated into the business activities as well as tracked and reported on.

A next step is the consultation and engagement of indigenous people before the actual start of the business operations. Ultimately, the FPIC standard should be respected, which stands for:

Free Free from coercion

Prior Before activities of the company take place

Informed Community is aware of all the benefits and consequences of the business activities

Consent Community gives the permission for the business operations to take place

The brand should additionally set up an effective grievance mechanism, which should be communicated to the local communities. It is of great importance to offer remediation for any negative consequences that indigenous people may have suffered.

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