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Sustainability Standards

Indigenous forms of participation within the framework of sustainability standards: the 2018 IPAF annual meeting in Suriname


05.04.2018 |

Mining is often associated with massive environmental pollution and human rights violations. Indigenous peoples in mining regions are often particularly affected. Sustainability initiatives, such as the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), are therefore increasingly trying to protect the rights of indigenous peoples by adopting environmental and social standards in accordance with the provisions of international law and human rights. ASI is an international multi-stakeholder initiative for the aluminium industry, which is committed to responsible aluminium extraction through certification and serves as a role model for other raw material sectors.

However, indigenous peoples are only partially taken into account in sustainability standards or initiatives. At most they are usually the object of discussion and do not participate as equal partners in relevant processes, such as standard development or evaluation. ASI aims to address this through the Indigenous Peoples Advisory Forum (IPAF), which is part of their governance structure. Founded in 2016, the forum’s intention is to advise the initiative on indigenous issues while acting as a model platform for dialogue on including the rights and interests of indigenous communities. The scope and implementation of the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is particularly relevant.

The third annual IPAF meeting took place in Suriname in late March 2018. More than 20 participants from Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Germany, India, the Philippines, Suriname and the United Kingdom discussed experiences and best practices together, as well as issues relating to the forum’s development and tasks. The forum members, representatives of communities affected by bauxite mining or organised indigenous interest groups, welcomed a small number of international guests, including an advisor from the Extractives and Development sector programme. The itinerary included a visit to a rehabilitated bauxite mine and an area of jungle designated as a mining area. The indigenous peoples living there are seeking recognition of this area as indigenous land with the help of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Extractives and Development sector programme carried out a study on forms of indigenous participation in sustainability standards as an input for IPAF discussions. Among other things, the authors compare five certification programmes (alongside ASI, these are the Responsible Jewellery Council, the Forest Stewardship Council, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and Equitable Origin) with reference to their governance structures and treatment of indigenous issues. Based on extensive literature research and a large number of interviews, the authors also list a variety of best practices for implementing FPIC, auditing, including participatory data collection mechanisms, complaint mechanisms and compensation options. The example of the Gulkula Mining Company (GMC), an Australian bauxite company that is wholly owned and managed by indigenous people, is particularly noteworthy. The company is currently seeking ASI certification and is working with Nespresso to create a transparent supply chain from GMC mining to the finished Nespresso coffee capsule.

The study identifies as a challenge the difficulties in understanding between the indigenous peoples and the auditors of sustainability initiatives, with regard to each other’s sometimes complex issues and systems. It proposes extending the application of FPIC principles to indigenous participation, e.g. in the context of certifications or complaints. Too often, indigenous peoples are not sufficiently informed about their rights within sustainability standards and therefore have only limited participation opportunities. In addition to capacity building, indigenous representatives must be given enough time and resources for their own positioning so that they can act as equal participants, for example, in a standard-setting process or when assessing a complaint about a mine operator. Regarding the increasing use of innovative and digital technologies, the authors call for detailed guidelines for verifying FPIC, adapted to regional specificities. In order to improve data organisation and collection within indigenous communities, the authors recommend on-the-job training by appointed experts and auditors. They also propose the use of bonds as a means of upholding sustainability standards to ensure indigenous rights even in the event that a company ceases to be certified.

The study provided an important contribution to the discussion at the IPAF meeting. A written commentary and revision of the study will follow. The forum showed great interest in further collaboration with German development cooperation. Subsequent to the meeting, IPAF will now make recommendations for ASI on indigenous issues, prepare a publicly accessible conference report and finalise its work plan in the light of the discussions. The next annual meeting is scheduled for February 2019 in India.

For more information, please contact Johanna Wysluch



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