Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


companies ‘need to improve’ on indigenous rights

November 2007

Seven large companies have been said in a new study to be doing too little to protect indigenous peoples’ rights.

Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wrongs: Risks for Resource Sectors explores the challenges and opportunities facing companies operating in areas where indigenous peoples’ rights are threatened.

The measures that companies are implementing to deal with indigenous and land rights issues are analysed by the report, which is by Ethical Investment Research Services and the Centre for Australian Ethical Research.

Most of the companies examined showed a basic public commitment to indigenous rights and to serious consultation. In the high-risk sectors, extractive industries such as oil, gas and mining were found to be most likely to respond to the issues, but forestry, agriculture and others lagged behind.

It appeared that few companies were clearly committed to achieving free, prior and informed consent, without manipulation or coercion, for all projects, or they were not effectively managing the engagement and consent process.

The study found the quality of reporting on indigenous rights issues was generally poor among those studied. Most companies responded to allegations of breaches of indigenous rights but few reported voluntarily on areas of non-compliance.

Stephanie Maier, Eiris head of research, observed: ‘Given the level of attention given by non-governmental organizations and the media 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.’

The seven companies whose policies were examined were Anglo-Eastern Plantations, Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, Suncor Energy, Total, Weyerhaeuser and Woodside Petroleum.

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