Lago de-Atitlan - RA

Rights of indigenous peoples and local communities

Summary of the issue:

Rights of indigenous peoples and local communities

It’s a story that has been told from the Amazonian rainforest to the Arctic taiga: governments sell the rights to traditional indigenous lands to companies, and then those companies log, mine, create industrial farming monocultures, build dams, or otherwise extract resources, leaving the land degraded and the interests of indigenous peoples and other local communities either ignored or actively violated. Or, in a variation of that story, governments create protected areas on traditional indigenous lands, restricting indigenous peoples’ access or resettling them to new lands in the name of conservation. Indigenous communities suffer greatly because of these activities, not only through hampered livelihoods and access to resources, but also through lost cultural traditions and social cohesion.

While the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007, prohibits discrimination against the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples and upholds their right to participate in decisions that affect them, it is largely a symbolic document and not a legally binding instrument. While a recent ILO report found that many national and regional institutions fail to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, sustainability standards and related tools can serve as another layer of protection of indigenous rights. Virtually all programmes require that participants have official tenure over the land they wish to certify, and most also require that any contested claims by other groups – such as local communities and indigenous peoples – are resolved before certification. This concept is called ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ (FPIC), and while it is often one of the most difficult requirements in sustainability standards (and often leads to lower rates of standard adoption) it means that no developments should be carried out on indigenous lands, or measures passed which may affect indigenous peoples’ rights, without their advance consent.

In many sectors, sustainability programmes and related tools have embraced the concept of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, which requires that programme participants identify, together with local communities and indigenous peoples, areas with important values, including sites and resources that are fundamental for satisfying their necessities, such as livelihoods, health, water, nutrition, cultural value and others. When such values are identified, programme participants must formulate a plan to manage and protect those values.

Ensuring that small-scale indigenous and community operations have affordable access to certification and markets for certified products is another avenue through which standards and related supply chain tools work to address the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. Most programmes also take special measures to ensure that the voices of indigenous peoples and local communities are heard in their standard-setting process.

Most sustainability approaches and tools agree that governments need to take a stronger role in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and communities by resolving conflicting laws around tenure, enforcing international human rights law, and embracing, in earnest, the concept of FPIC.

Some resources that examine the impact of sustainability approaches and tools on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are as follows:

Available evidence

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