Letter to the Editor
August 9th marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. There are an estimated 476 million indigenous people worldwide. Collectively, this group stewards more than 20% of the Earth’s land and close to 80% of its biodiversity. Yet, indigenous peoples’ resilience is deeply threatened by climate change and the adverse impacts companies have on the environment. They also disproportionately makeup 15% of the global population living in poverty. As such, this group is left highly vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation.
Halfway through 2023, global legislation on modern slavery and ethical due diligence continues to rise, including potential new policies in the EU and New Zealand. This new regulatory landscape not only aims for businesses to address exploitation but to also understand the impact businesses have on the environment and what these impacts mean for upholding human rights. International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples serves as a reminder, that as more businesses begin to understand, remediate, and prevent both human rights and environmental abuses, to recognize the interconnectedness of these issues with indigenous communities. It is vital that organisations ensure the representation of these groups when strategies and action plans are created.
In this month’s brief, we will highlight specific ways in which organisations can both positively and adversely impact indigenous groups and provide recommendations on how your business can remediate and prevent further harm to indigenous communities. At STOP THE TRAFFIK, we believe actions such as inclusive data collection and ethical due diligence can elevate indigenous voices to generate solutions that reduce harm and help create a world where people are not bought and sold.
As always, we hope you find this newsletter useful in outlining the pertinent issues and recommendations relevant to modern slavery and your business. We would love to hear your thoughts on how we can improve our monthly brief and continue to serve you in the best way possible.
Head of Consulting and Business Engagement
Businesses Protecting Indigenous Rights
For several years Brazil’s indigenous peoples’ rights have been denied due to the rapid expansion of high-risk agribusiness operations across the country. Businesses need to be aware of the long-term impact of exploitative industries on indigenous communities and establish standards to protect indigenous rights.
In the past few years, agri-business operations have expanded across Brazil due to new technology, infrastructure and increased global consumer demand. Coupled with a lack of regulation across the sector, this has had devastating consequences for Brazil’s indigenous peoples, and the natural resources of the Amazon rainforest. Unregulated operations have encroached on indigenous territories, exploiting the land, destroying the surrounding environment, and ultimately impacting the livelihoods and resources of indigenous communities. Indigenous communities in Brazil are guaranteed rights to land indicated as the demarcation of indigenous lands, of 733 indigenous territories. Demarcation of indigenous territories establishes a physical boundary, recognised by the state to recognise and protect indigenous people’s land rights. However, only 496 are recognised by the state. Cattle ranches and soy plantations require vast fertile land for production, thus driving excessive forest clearance operations in parts of the Amazon.
Businesses must increasingly look to safeguard indigenous peoples’ land rights in Brazil. This is possible. Since 2021 global consumer brands Nestle, Mars and 3M have formed a partnership with an indigenous community in British Columbia to support the protection of their land rights. These businesses source pulp and paper from the region. All companies, and their supply chain, support and follow the indigenous peoples’ management plans for the territory. Satellite monitoring, paid for by businesses, monitors that no road building or logging operates within the protected area. In Brazil, businesses must work to provide platforms that strengthen indigenous communities’ voices in the management of land to respect and promote their land rights.
What can your organisation do?
- Use the UN Global Compact Business Reference Guide on UNDRIP and The Danish Institute for Human Rights Checklist to integrate the recognition and respect of indigenous rights into your supply chain due diligence processes.
- Engage with groups such as Earthworm Foundation and Interlaken Group that help businesses accelerate best practices and build direct relationships with indigenous peoples and local community groups in supply chains.
The Impact of Banks Financing Activities Contributing to the Climate Crisis
Indigenous communities are amongst the most affected by climate change due to their dependence upon and close relationship with the environment. Banks around the world continue to finance the fossil fuel sector putting indigenous communities at greater risk of exploitation impacted by the effects of climate & environmental change.
There is a disconnect between banks’ environmental aspirations and their practices. On the one hand, ESG reports proclaim net zero credibility and environmentally conscious investments, while many are still providing loans, insurance, and financing to companies in the fossil fuel sector. 44 of the 60 banks listed in the latest banking on climate chaos report have committed to net zero by 2050 but are still financing oil & gas exploration. The of opening these sites will have an impact beyond 2050. Beyond oil and gas, banks are also financing activities causing deforestation in the Amazon and destructive mining, both of which are known to adversely affect the local communities’ way of life.
Indigenous populations are being forced to fight major investments aimed at continuing oil and gas extraction or deforestation in order to project their land and way of life. In Canada, whose banks are amongst the worst financers of fossil fuel projects, First Nations, farmers and environmentalists are fighting the construction of the Keystone XL and TransMountain Pipeline Expansion. These projects have already resulted in human rights abuses of the local Sumas First Nations following several oil spillages resulting in local evacuations.
To adhere to the UN Guiding principles, businesses, including financial institutions, have a duty to prevent or mitigate any human rights abuses including those caused to indigenous communities through project financing. Ultimately, the banking and finance industry has the power and responsibility to significantly reduce the impact on the planet and the communities most affected by climate change. By moving away from environmentally destructive investments and shifting towards balancing profit, environmental and social responsibilities, the financial sector can be a force for good in protecting the environment and preventing exploitation.
What can your organisation do?
- Assess the impact of your business’ actions on the environment and affected communities from adverse environment impacts.
- Conduct human rights assessments in any investment opportunities and ensure companies being invested in are themselves acting responsibly.
- Engage with indigenous communities in the initial planning stages of projects that will impact them, giving them an opportunity to express their rights to both self-determination and to natural resources.
GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC SERVICES
Businesses Support Indigenous Communities Inclusion in Government Bodies
The opportunity for Australians to vote for a constitutional amendment to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Parliament is fast approaching. Businesses are playing a key role in the run-up to the referendum to support indigenous communities and advocate for protections against modern slavery and human trafficking.
Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have historically been underrepresented in Australian politics. As a result, these communities have less protection against vulnerabilities that can lead to modern slavery. In 2017, 250 First Nations representatives delivered the Uluru Statement From The Heart which asks for Australians to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of treaty making and truth-telling. Six years later in 2023, Australia is set to have a referendum that will decide whether these communities will be recognised in Parliament through a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. This new body will provide non-binding advice to Australia’s Parliament and will aim to “address entrenched disadvantage among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Indigenous communities are vulnerable to MSHT, as they are at the forefront of climate change, deforestation, and corporate environmental degradation which causes community displacement. In Australia, they also have a much lower employment rate (51%) than other Australians (74%) according to the 2021 census which can increase vulnerability to exploitation.
At present, some of Australia’s biggest businesses have voiced support for the changes, including miners, banks and retailers such as BHP, Rio Tinto, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, ANZ and Woolworths. The combined advocacy and funding of the “Yes” campaign from businesses will have a significant influence on the result later this year. Polling data from the 7th of August shows that currently the “No” vote overtakes “Yes” in all states except Victoria. Supporters believe a “Yes” outcome will result in the strengthening of Parliament’s understanding on the topic rather than supplant its authority.
What can your organisation do?
- If based in Australia, show support for the constitutional amendment by voting in support of the change and sharing information publicly about the impacts in the run up to the referendum in October 2023.
- Ensure that supplier due diligence systems across businesses with global supply chains incorporate protections for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and wider indigenous communities where risk is present.
- Understand what effective remediation can look like by consulting indigenous communities themselves.
TECHNOLOGY AND MEDIA
Technology Providing a Voice to Indigenous Peoples- Indigenous Navigator
Technology plays an important role in monitoring human rights and ensuring that the voices of those most often excluded from mainstream conversation are included. Innovative project, the Indigenous Navigator, is bringing this to life global communities.
Historically, indigenous communities have not been consulted when businesses conduct human rights impact assessments, evaluating the potential impacts of their operations and/or supply chain on the rights of individuals. As a solution to this, the Indigenous Navigator was developed by and for indigenous peoples with the aim of allowing indigenous groups to generate data and use this to communicate their needs. They might, for example, gather data on how an area of land is used to show how a new project on this land would impact their way of life.
An example of this is work with the Sapmi to fill in vast knowledge gaps about their rights through detailed surveys. The Navigator was used to support the community to gather data about their activities, rights and history in the Sapmi region, information not currently collected by the government. This data can then be used to defend their rights in the case that they are threatened. If a business were to want to open a mine in Sapmi, the community could show, using data, the extent to which they would be impacted and help lessen these impacts.
The project shows the potential for technology to enable community-led data projects that government initiatives have been unable to fulfil on a large scale. Information gathering aims to empower communities to support themselves by presenting an accurate picture of their lives and livelihoods in a way that makes sense to international bodies or businesses.
What can your organisation do?
- Consult the navigator tools as initial desk research when considering moving operations to new locations or conducting the initial phases of a human rights impact assessment;
- Evaluate the ways in which your own technology can be used to assist in elevating the voices of indigenous peoples such as providing access to secure data storage or data gathering tools.
European Sustainability Reporting Standards and Indigenous Rights
At the start of this month the European Commission adopted the first set of European Sustainability Reporting standards (ESRS), which will be applicable to all companies subject to the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). Whilst these come into effect in 2024, businesses need to start preparing to report on the 12 standards covering issues such as climate, pollution, workers in the value chain and affected communities.
In January 2023, the EU introduced the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, this directive intends to modernise and strengthen the rules concerning social and environmental information companies must report, amending the existing Non-Financial Reporting Directive. The adopted ESRS intend to help companies communicate and manage their sustainability performance and will be mandatory for businesses that fall under scope of the Directive. The CSRD applies to large undertakings based in the EU, parent of large EU groups, SMEs and large non-EU groups, depending on their eligibility against the relevant criteria. Businesses will be required to report metrics on the following areas: climate, pollution, water & marine resources, biodiversity, own workforce, workers in the value chain, affected communities, consumers & end users and business conduct. The introduction of the ESRS under the CSRD is another reason to ensure your organisation is acting responsibly and investing in continuous improvement of its modern slavery and human trafficking prevention efforts.
The ESRS ensure businesses assess if they are causing or contributing to human rights abuses in their operations or supply chains, to hold them accountable for their actions. However, the legislation only provides for civil liability and may not be enough to stop businesses from engaging in harmful activities, and currently only applies to 1% of European companies.
What can your organisation do?
- Review the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and establish if you organisation meets the criteria for reporting or is expected to in the coming years.
- Assign an individual or team the responsibility of monitoring and reporting the progress against the ESRS annually.
- Review current activities and reporting to ensure these align with the requirements of the ESRS reporting metrics for the reporting deadlines in 2024 and 2026.