Published: Nov. 30, 2023

IIPWG TM Webinar Nov 2023 SquareResearch shows that 54% of the world’s transition minerals projects – the extraction and processing of minerals and metals used in renewable energy production and storage such as wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle batteries – occur on or near Indigenous lands; the number climbs to nearly 70% when unrecognized Indigenous Peoples and peoples without recognized land tenure are included.

As more end user companies work to reach low-carbon targets and renewable energy goals, and as interactions with Indigenous Peoples occur more frequently, companies cannot avoid the responsibility to recognize impacts to Indigenous Peoples and disclose those impacts accurately. 

Investors play a pivotal role to call for companies to respect and integrate Indigenous Peoples’ rights in renewable energy development and manufacturing that impacts their lands and communities, according to speakers on the webinar Indigenous Rights Risk in the Energy Transition: Mining, Supply Chains & End-User Consideration (watch the video).  

Presented by the Investors & Indigenous People Working Group (IIPWG) with support from First Peoples Worldwide, Indigenous leaders from different global regions shared their priorities to avoid harm and negative impacts of transition mineral development. Speakers also discussed how investors and companies can scope for and address Indigenous Rights Risk in the creation of a just and sustainable energy transition. 

Growing Urgency to Center Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the Energy Transition  

Indigenous Peoples the world over experience negative impacts and effects of the energy transition carried out without respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights. 

Lesley Muñoz Rivera, an attorney and Indigenous leader belonging to the Colla community of Copiapó in Chile, highlighted how “[lithium] mining activities have dried part of the Atacama Salt Lake” and created severe water shortages that threaten her peoples’ crops, livelihoods, and culture. The companies Albemarle, SQM, and Codelco, a state-run company, mine lithium in the region. While the Colla people have taken the protection of their resources and culture into their own hands through legal action, ecological monitoring, and storytelling, the erosion of their water resources is ongoing. 

The Sámi people in Sweden are experiencing similar harm to their lands and culture. Matti Blind-Berg, Chairman of the Swedish Sámi Herders Association, shared grievances on how the reindeer herding practices of his people are threatened by mining from companies including Beowulf Mining and Swedish subsidiary Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB, as well as other companies. Blind-Berg called the green transition a “deadly trap” for his people given how regulation and legislation is moving forward in the EU. Without Sámi participation in these processes, more mining, more wind turbines, and more forestry make it impossible for reindeer to find food and give birth, and thus impossible for the Sámi traditional ways of life to continue.  

The companies that operate on Colla and Sámi lands failed to secure the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of these Indigenous Peoples. Yblin Román Escobar, a researcher at Ghent University and EU facilitator for the Securing Indigenous Peoples Rights in the Green Economy (SIRGE) Coalition, discussed this growing trend and highlighted the OxFam report, Recharging Community Consent: Mining companies, battery minerals, and the battle to break from the past. Analyzing 43 companies involved in the exploration and production of minerals used in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the report found that only two companies have clear public commitments to respect Indigenous communities’ decision to give or withhold consent.  

Moderator Kate Finn, Executive Director of First Peoples Worldwide emphasized that “while we all agree that we need to have solutions to climate change,” we must at the same time advocate for the urgency to protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. As Escobar pointed out: if we do not preserve a culture, “it disappears forever.”   

Recommendations: How Investors Can Scope for Indigenous Rights Risk in the Green Economy  

The presenters discussed how investors play a crucial role in ensuring Indigenous Peoples’ rights are respected in the green transition. Joseph Bastien, Associate Director for SHARE Canada’s Reconciliation and Responsible Investment Initiative (RRII), outlined the business case to investors. 

Companies may face legal, regulatory, and financial risks if they fail to obtain FPIC or neglect Indigenous Rights Risk. A company may end up losing hundreds of millions of dollars on operational delays, regulatory restrictions, remediation costs, and lawsuits—preventable losses if a company carries out the required due diligence.  

Both investors and Indigenous Peoples are exposed to significant risk as companies are not held to high standards by federal regulations in Canada, where, as Bastien noted, 75% of mining companies in the world and 40% of publicly listed mining companies are based. Respect for Indigenous Peoples' rights by these companies also varies across the globe. As such, investors must push for companies to uphold the highest standards of FPIC throughout all jurisdictions in which the companies operate.  

RRII FPW TM Investor Brief GraphicBastien shared from the report published by RRII and First Peoples Worldwide, Investor Brief: Responsible Investment and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the Energy Transition, which provides guidance to shareholders on how to leverage and forward Indigenous Peoples priorities in engagements. The brief gives the following recommendations for investors: 

  1. Articulate a clear vision of Indigenous peoples’ rights that centers self-determination to guide policies and operations.
  2. Undertake due diligence across the investment chain and use a shareholder voice to advance Indigenous rights.
  3. Review, identify, and explore partnerships with Indigenous communities, businesses, and organizations. 

Indigenous leaders provided clear actions investors can take. Muñoz Rivera called on shareholders to “verify where companies are buying the minerals... and whether rights violations are occurring where minerals are being extracted.” 

Blind-Berg explained how FPIC is the minimum standard for companies and that investors must encourage governments to incorporate FPIC into policy. “Indigenous Peoples have the knowledge to take care of this planet. Listening to us can be a good investment,” he said. 

Escobar told investors, “Make your money work for real sustainability that is just and built on respect for human and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.” She said investors must ask companies, “How are you ensuring the rights of Indigenous Peoples not only domestically but around the world?”  

Finn affirmed this investor responsibility, calling on shareholders to hold companies accountable to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights and FPIC consistently in jurisdictions around the world and to the standards as enshrined in United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). 

Despite progress around the world by Indigenous leaders forwarding their FPIC priorities, there is still no jurisdiction that fully protects the rights of Indigenous Peoples to minimum standards articulated by the UNDRIP, and no jurisdiction whose environmental or social analysis can be relied on to fully consider the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples. Private-sector leaders must recognize that Indigenous Peoples have their own FPIC protocols and design operations to respect Indigenous-led processes. 

Investors who seek to eliminate harm to Indigenous Peoples in developing the green energy economy must prioritize Indigenous Peoples’ participation. They must also ensure companies perform the necessary risk due diligence, both for on-the-ground activities and throughout supply chains to ensure FPIC has been solicited in a rights-based manner. 

“There is no supply chain security without consideration of Indigenous Peoples,” said Finn.

Updated 12/13/23