Corporate Responsibility and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Corporations have a responsibility to ensure basic human rights to everyone; however, they have a history of operating on or near indigenous peoples’ land and failing to compensate them for any environmental damage or human rights abuses that occur during their operations. Different companies have different policies in place to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and make sure they aren’t discriminating against their rights or their land; however, these policies are not necessarily followed through with. Corporations need to face consequences when they violate indigenous peoples’ human rights and compensate these communities for the damages they contribute to their land.

To try and protect indigenous peoples’ rights, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, which includes the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which is “the right of indigenous peoples to give or withhold their consent for any action that would affect their lands, territories or rights”. If indigenous peoples do not give FPIC to corporations, then the corporations shouldn’t be allowed to operate because they would be violating indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination. Also, the UN put out the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which are a set of guidelines for States and companies to prevent and address human rights abuses committed in business operations. Still, corporations tend to ignore these and continue to infringe upon indigenous peoples’ rights and their land, which is why this is a pressing human rights issue. 

One example of a corporation that commits various human rights abuses against indigenous peoples and their land is Nornickel, which is a Russian nickel mining company that is responsible for multiple environmental disasters in the Artic, a lot of which affect indigenous land. For example, in May 2020, over 20,000 tons of diesel leaked into the Ambarnaya River from a Nornickel powerplant; the river turned red from the amount of pollution in it. This is a problem for indigenous communities because a lot of the artic indigenous tribes that live along this river use it to hunt and fish for their food to survive. Knowing the damage that affected these communities because of the oil spill, Nornickel still failed to give compensation to the indigenous communities impacted and they also failed to acknowledge FPIC. This is a violation of the UNDRIP, yet Nornickel continues to operate and extract nickel without consequences for its actions against indigenous communities.

Not wanting big corporations to get away with committing human rights abuses toward indigenous peoples, one group decided to push back. In July 2020, Tesla announced that they were looking for an environmentally friendly nickel supplier. According to Tesla’s human rights policies, they expect all their suppliers to respect the rights and land of indigenous peoples and ask for FPIC. Nornickel does not fall in accordance with this, and the indigenous peoples of the Artic did not want this corporation to profit more from committing human rights violations against them. Therefore, the Aborigen Forum, which is “an informal association of 39 independent experts, activists, leaders and organizations of indigenous minorities from 14 regions of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation sent a letter to Elon Musk asking him to boycott Nornickel until they “conducts a ‘full and independent assessment’ of the damage from its past operations and the recent oil spill, compensates indigenous communities for damages, implements an environmental remediation plan for lands it has degraded and develops guidelines for community engagement that are informed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Those guidelines should include obtaining ‘free and informed consent’ prior to embarking on projects that will impact indigenous lands.” Following this, they started the #AnswerUsElonMusk social media campaign which went viral and gained global support. In late September of 2020, “an official appeal, signed by 71 human rights organizations from 27 countries, was sent to Tesla to inform it about Nornickel’s poor environmental and human rights record.” Tesla didn’t respond to comments about Nornickel or the Aborigen Forum’s letters. However, they chose not to work with Nornickel, which could speak to the protests from the indigenous community. This is an example of indigenous peoples demanding that their human rights be respected by corporations and that corporations will have consequences if not. Nornickel is still a leading producer of nickel in Russia, so even though this protest is a start, there needs to be stricter consequences for corporations if they violate indigenous peoples’ human rights and their right to FPIC so that other corporations will see this and change their ways as well.

Victoria Kish is a recent graduate of American University.


SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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