From Profit to Promoting Social Awareness: Corporate Engagement

Corporate Engagement with Indigenous Peoples

Corporations around the world are starting to recognize the need for environmental conservation, social responsibility, virtuous governance and sustainable development in their business practices. Private interests unreasonably affect Indigenous communities and are negatively influencing the policies of government toward Indigenous Peoples.

For centuries, corporate engagement with Indigenous Peoples has been a threat to the ecosystem and the native peoples whose lives it sustains. Corporations working in extractive industries often abuse the human rights of Indigenous Peoples when it comes to their resources, territories, indigenous rights and lands. However, the reputational and financial costs of overlooking Indigenous rights are continuously increasing. Corporations that have tried to operate on Indigenous lands without the support of communities have suffered budget overruns, high legal costs, work stoppage and negative press as fallout.

Is it Being Realized?

Indigenous communities have made substantial progress in developing models for working with corporations that allow them to maintain control over their resources. Industry leaders are also realizing that Indigenous communities can be open to corporate activities provided that the community can benefit from it and the activities follow good environmental practices.

Highlighting the working success of one activist, Rebecca Adamson, founder of First Peoples Worldwide, has been supporting Indigenous rights for almost 20 years. For Adamson, corporate engagement is her weapon of choice, and the waves she has started have set the stage for a wider audience to take the lead. First Peoples Worldwide was the first Indigenous organization to use strategies based on the market and finance to address Indigenous issues. The company aims to align the interests of Indigenous Peoples with corporate operating policies and to develop an effective model that identifies the actual social costs of doing business, thus giving an incentive for large business to adhere to social guidelines.

In 1994, Adamson joined the Calvert Social Investment Funds (CSIF) and became the mutual fund board’s first Indigenous member. She collaborated with CSIF to create the Indigenous Peoples Investment Screen, which later became the Indigenous Peoples Investment Criteria that has helped Calvert ESG and KLD Analytics integrate Indigenous concerns into their research databases.

Adamson formed the Indigenous Peoples Working Group, with shareholder activism as its aim. More than 600 investment research firms, brokers, investors and clients were trained to use the Indigenous Peoples Investment Criteria, which provided the basis for a first-time victory for Indigenous rights in 2007. More than 90 percent of Newmont Mining shareholders supported the idea of making efforts to reduce conflicts with Indigenous Peoples.

Corporations from around the world are also using the criteria today. One of the first companies to implement the criteria was KLD Analytics. Since then, KLD Analytics has become one of the largest research companies in the United States.

Corporate engagement as social advocacy is gaining recognition and strength today. In fact, a study conducted by World Bank on the access of Indigenous Peoples to conservation backing revealed that the approach of corporations to funding development projects tends to be more mutual than the funding provided by foundations and NGOs.

Communities also stated that private companies are often better at listening to and checking with neighboring communities. These companies are also more transparent in their business practices. Today, more and more corporations are starting to realize that protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples is crucial to the sustainability, success, and survival of their business.