Respecting Indigenous Peoples’ Rights is Every Business’s Business

May 11, 2023



By Claire Kaula

Indigenous Peoples make up approximately six percent of the global population and belong to more than 5,000 distinct groups spanning across more than 90 countries. They are diverse communities with unique cultures and ways of life. Despite their differences, Indigenous Peoples face the same challenge of being particularly vulnerable to adverse impacts on their fundamental human rights. They are often marginalized and discriminated against in political and legal systems and disproportionally experience poverty and violence. For these reasons, Indigenous Peoples require special protections of their rights. While governments have the duty to protect, respect, and fulfill Indigenous Peoples’ rights, the UN Guiding Principles also expect companies to pay particular attention to the rights of Indigenous Peoples as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

For some companies, the obligations and opportunities for respecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights will be more apparent. Companies in the extractives industry, for example, can have significant impacts on Indigenous lands, territories, and resources. But most companies likely have opportunities to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. In Brazil, for example, cattle farmers supplying the food and leather industries are encroaching on Indigenous territory to graze their cattle. In the United States, Indigenous sovereignty is at risk in legal cases, some of which make their way to the US Supreme Court, such as in the pending case Haaland v. Brackeen. Companies can play a role in these cases through their political affairs work, which may support political campaigns or lobbying groups associated with efforts that seek to weaken tribal sovereignty in the US. In Australia, on the Torres Strait, Indigenous Peoples face land and cultural heritage loss by rising sea levels which are threatening the islands and washing away buildings and burial grounds. Indigenous Peoples disproportionally face the negative impacts of climate change, and all companies, regardless of where they operate, can contribute to slowing climate change by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. 

As companies continue to advance their human rights due diligence programs, they have an opportunity to give special consideration to their potential impacts on Indigenous Peoples’ rights. In effectively mitigating risks of adverse impacts, companies can help advance Indigenous Peoples rights and maximize opportunities for positive impact. Here are three key ways to start: 

  1. Conduct human rights due diligence which pays particular attention to Indigenous Peoples. Given the special vulnerabilities of Indigenous Peoples, it is critical that they are prioritized in due diligence exercises such as human rights impact assessments and saliency mapping exercises. This can be done by expanding key human rights standards in scope for an assessment, such as including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As Indigenous Peoples can suffer adverse impacts earlier and more intensely than other communities, including Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the assessment will help companies more effectively identify human rights risks.  
  2. Engage directly and meaningfully with Indigenous Peoples when conducting activities that may have implications on their rights. Indigenous Peoples should be able to easily participate in companies’ community consultation and stakeholder engagement processes. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states the right of Indigenous Peoples to be consulted through the principles of free, prior, and informed consent for activities occurring on their territory. Consultation with Indigenous Peoples should be culturally appropriate and include all relevant information to fully understand the context and make informed decisions. Good practice includes engaging across generations and genders, providing information in relevant languages and formats, and respecting time frames provided by Indigenous Peoples.  A meaningful engagement process builds a trusting relationship between companies and Indigenous Peoples. 
  3. Assess corporate political spending and lobbying. When developing and reviewing their public policy activities, companies should assess whether the political initiatives, candidates, and campaigns they are supporting align with their company’s human rights values, including respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Aligning human rights commitments and public affairs can help foster systems where Indigenous Peoples are included, more empowered, and have their rights protected. 

If you have any questions about how to integrate Indigenous Peoples rights into your company’s human rights strategy, please contact the Article One team at