Respecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

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Respecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Impact on People, Planet and Corporate Profits
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Monday, August 31, 2015 - 12:35pm

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GreenMoney Interview Series: Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples interviewed by Steven Heim, Managing Director of Boston Common Asset Management

Introduction by Steven Heim, who is a Managing Director at Boston Common Asset Management.

Investors increasingly must pay attention to Indigenous Peoples globally because of both risks to their portfolios and opportunities for lasting business partnerships.  Much of the world’s remaining biodiversity and natural resources are located on or near Indigenous lands. After centuries of marginalization and oppression Indigenous Peoples are asserting their inherent human rights to self-determination and protection of their lands and cultures. In 2007 the United Nations adopted the landmark Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As Walter Echo-Hawk states: the Declaration “now points the way for bringing to the world’s indigenous peoples, at long last, the same human rights protections universally enjoyed by the rest of humanity.”

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz advocates for Indigenous Peoples rights as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She started as a student activist in the Philippines in the 1960s helping her people stop a major hydroelectric dam that would have devastated their territories. Now she meets with governments and corporations to investigate alleged human rights abuses and also to advocate for best practices that respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. She believes investors can play a key role in bringing human rights protections to Indigenous Peoples while also enhancing the long-term sustainability of their investments.


Steven:  What is the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and what is your role in the United Nations and the protocol for investigating claims of human rights abuses of Indigenous Peoples?

Victoria:  My mandate as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is to really monitor how Indigenous Peoples’ rights are being respected, protected, and fulfilled by States, because they are the duty holders of human rights. To accomplish this I have to conduct some country visits and communicate with governments when I receive allegations of human rights violations. I also have to gather information and evidence, write letters to the government and others who are accused, and then gather more information [including] what are they doing regarding these alleged violations. The other part of my mandate is to raise awareness on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and to engage in dialogues with States and multilateral bodies and, of course, with Indigenous Peoples themselves to raise awareness and advocate for Indigenous Peoples’ rights. So, there is awareness raising and advocacy work, as well as monitoring.

Steven:  What do you see as the key challenges facing Indigenous Peoples worldwide now and how about for Indigenous women also?

Victoria:  Well, I think one of the key challenges is that there is a big gap in terms of implementing the international instruments related to the respect and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. The UN Declaration clearly states that Indigenous Peoples have rights to their lands, territories, and resources and the right to determine the kind of development best suited to their cultures. There is still a long way to go before those rights are respected. I think we now find the biggest challenge is to respect and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, their lands, and their territories.

Indigenous Peoples in many parts of the world find themselves faced with situations where many investors are buying or expropriating their lands, or giving justification to governments to expropriate their lands for other uses. Many of the world’s remaining resources, whether in forests, minerals, or oil and gas, are found in Indigenous Peoples’ territories. And if those are the areas where resources are found, it’s logical for corporations to want to get their hands on them. That is really the problem faced by many Indigenous Peoples and that’s the kind of complaint that I receive most of the time.

Steven:  And then for Indigenous women in particular, what challenges do they face?

Victoria:  Well, for Indigenous women it’s really this violation of the rights of all Indigenous Peoples to determine the kind of development that they want. Indigenous women suffer more problems because, number one, in many communities they are the subsistence producers. They are the ones who produce the food, provide the water, and ensure the survival of the community. They are also the transmitters of traditional knowledge and cultural values to the younger generations. And they are faced with a lot of difficulty because there is a lot of violence in Indigenous communities; when women join protests they are often subjected to military violence. Also, women endure a lot of violence in their own domestic realm because of alcoholism and social pressure in dysfunctional Indigenous communities. I think women suffer doubly from racism and discrimination, because they are Indigenous and because they are women. I receive a lot of reports about missing or murdered Indigenous women, even here in the United States and Canada.

The other side of the story is that Indigenous women are still very vigilant; they are the ones who maintain the cultural values and knowledge systems that can enable communities to save their lands and preserve biodiversity. Many of the women are the traditional healers in the communities; they want to continue playing those roles, so there really needs to be much more attention given to Indigenous women, not just because of their problems, but also because of the contributions they make to their communities and to sustainably managing the world’s resources.

Steven:  What are the key things that you would like to accomplish in 2015 and into 2016 and what will your next thematic report be on?

Victoria:  Well for 2015 I would like to, of course, do more country visits. In the thematic reports I will focus on Indigenous women. The next thematic report for the General Assembly will be on the impacts of investments on the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. Investment is an issue that strongly affects Indigenous Peoples.

And I am thinking that I will use investments as a theme from 2015 to 2017. That [way] there will be a follow-up of the findings that will come up this year, and I will continue looking at this until the end of my term, which is three years, renewable for another three years.

Steven:  How in general would you like investors to help advance the rights and self determination of Indigenous Peoples, either encouraging corporations to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, or in direct investment in communities?

Victoria:  There are now several guiding principles, or frameworks, that investors should be made aware of. First, you have the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that has been released by the United Nations. And then we have the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. These are the frameworks that investors should be aware of. If they really [want] to protect social and environmental rights, as well as uphold social and environmental standards, these instruments can guide them in doing that properly. Second, I think investors have a role to play because there are Indigenous Peoples who would like to undertake development in their own communities, but the right kind of development, from their own perspectives. If they were able to link up with investors who understand the need for environmental and social standards that respect and protect rights as well as the environment, then Indigenous Peoples would willingly engage with them. [This is] because the way the world is working now, [these] responsible investors are not a part of the conversation. Unfortunately, the investors we see are often those who are only interested in high rates of return; they are not mindful about destruction of the environment or social standards. Theirs are not the kind of investments that will help save the world or humanity. I wish that such investors would seriously think about the risks they face when they don’t adhere to social and environmental standards, as well as the benefits they will experience if they respect them. Investors should make those kinds of risk analyses because if they don’t, there will only be more conflict. Ignoring rights can be very expensive. Maybe in the end, it will not come down to more profits for these investors, but more problems caused by disputed lands and of course reputational risk as well. It’s good to look at the possible approaches that will make investors do the right thing.

Steven:  How can investors, maybe, play the role of influencing member States and corporations to implement the UN Declaration, since it’s all about resources and corporations want the resources?

Victoria:  Well, I think that investors should really have a human rights dialogue with the States to encourage respect for human rights. And if investors are contributing to the national development of any country, it is in the interest of the State to respect and protect these rights and in the interests of investors as well. [It will] allow for a better sharing of benefits between Indigenous Peoples, [investors] and companies that operate in communities, and the government. Respecting rights helps to prevent conflicts that can substantially raise investors’ costs and even lead to the abandonment of projects. When land rights are secure, investors face fewer risks.

Respecting rights also helps preserve vital natural resources. There is a lot of evidence that if you respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, they will contribute much more to saving forests, making the ecosystem more sustainable, as well as bringing about more equity within the community. Growing inequality is not good for people nor for the environment.

Steven:  Do you have any other things that you would like to share with the readers of GreenMoney Journal?

Victoria:  Well, I think the key message is for the investment community to really undertake actions to meet these minimum international standards that protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the environment. The dominant investments we are seeing are not geared towards that end; we have to have an alternative that makes our world more sustainable and more just. Investors must seriously factor these considerations into their investment decisions.


Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a development consultant and an international Indigenous activist from the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. In June 2014 she assumed responsibilities as the third UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2009 she received the Gabriela Silang Award from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples in recognition of the work she has done at the forefront of the struggle for Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Tauli-Corpuz also served as the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005-2009. She is the founder of Tebtebba, the Indigenous People’s International Centre for Policy Research and Education. Tauli-Corpuz has actively worked with the World Bank on the safeguard policy review process. As an activist, she previously helped organize Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines to stop the Chico River Hydroelectric Dam and the Cellophil Resources Corporation. Her full bio:

Steven Heim is a Managing Director of Boston Common Asset Management (, a globally recognized sustainable investment firm. Steven has over 24 years of experience in the responsible investment field. Steven has worked to promote corporate transparency, accountability, and attention to sustainability issues. His efforts to protect the human rights of Indigenous Peoples have helped catalyze positive policy changes at U.S. and international companies including ConocoPhillips and Repsol that included direct engagement with Indigenous Peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Since 2007, Steven has chaired the advocacy subcommittee of US SIF Foundation’s Indigenous Peoples Working Group and he serves on the Board of Directors of Cultural Survival.


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Keywords: Environment & Climate Change | Business & Trade | Energy | Extractive Industries | Finance & Socially Responsible Investment | Gas | Global Warming | Health | Indigenous Peoples | Mining | Native Americans

CONTENT: Article