June 10, 2004
The Emergence Story Behind Indigenous Peoples Rights Screens
by William Baue
Socially responsible investment firms also engage in shareowner action on indigenous peoples rights
Corporate exploitation of natural resources and the flouting of indigenous peoples (IPs) rights are
often inextricably connected. To address this link, the socially responsible investment (SRI)
industry created indigenous peoples rights screens that assess corporate impacts on indigenous
people's sovereignty, cultural heritage, and natural resource rights, among other issues. The
"emergence story" behind the screens is rooted in the clash between corporate and indigenous
people's interests, and the resulting collateral damage.
In the winter of 1999, US
humanitarian workers traveled to Colombia to help set up a tribal school for the U'wa people, who
were embattled with oil companies drilling on their sacred ancestral lands. The oil companies paid
the Colombian government for security forces, whose presence heightened tensions with the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist guerilla organization known by its Spanish
"On February 25, 1999, two of my colleagues, Ingrid Washinawatok and
Lahe'eane Gay, who were both Native women, along with Terence Frietas, were kidnapped by FARC rebel
forces," said Rebecca Adamson, founding president of First Nations Development Institute, an organization that
helps IPs control and develop their assets. "They were assassinated on March 4th."
was the backdrop against which we introduced the IP screen at the 1999 SRI in the Rockies
Conference," Ms. Adamson told SocialFunds.com.
Ms. Adamson, who is a trustee of the
Calvert Social Investment Fund (CSIF), worked with the Calvert Group, as well as other CSIF trustees and the CSIF
Advisory Council, to develop the screen.
"We researched all of the international treaties
that had any section pertaining to IPs, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Indigenous
and Tribal Peoples Convention, and distilled all of the rights identified through these
international instruments into the ten basic criteria for the investment screen," Ms. Adamson said.
Later that year, Calvert introduced its IPs rights screen, which assesses three broad areas:
impacts on such issues as self-determination, land, and intellectual property; offensive portrayal
of IPs; and development of management policies guiding interaction with IPs.
In 2000, KLD Research & Analytics, an SRI research firm that
similarly assessed indigenous people's rights under other screens, launched its own IPs rights screen, which is very
similar to Calvert's, according to Liz Umlas, a senior research analyst at KLD. Toronto-based
Michael Jantzi Research Associates (MJRA) also shared
information on its aboriginal rights screen as a model for KLD.
information is the biggest challenge in applying IP rights screens. The areas are remote and
getting accurate information is expensive and difficult. Even where information is available,
there may be questions on the credibility or reliability of such information.
screening, Calvert also engages in shareowner action on IP rights, initiating dialogue with
companies in its portfolio when research identifies problems. If dialogue proves fruitless,
Calvert files shareowner resolutions. For example, this proxy season Calvert filed a
resolution with Calpine (ticker: CPN) asking the company to halt
development of geothermal power plants on IP's sacred ancestral lands, and to develop a formal
policy on IP rights.
"While Calvert would in most cases view such [environmentally
preferable] development favorably, the area is critically important for the spiritual healing and
religious practices of some American Indians, such as the Pit River Tribe," states Calvert's Spring
2004 Impact newsletter. "Establishing a geothermal energy project in Medicine Lake
Highlands is much like extracting resources on the grounds of a cathedral, mosque, or temple."
The resolution garnered 4.34 percent support from voting shareowners, successfully surpassing
the 3 percent threshold required to refile the resolution next proxy season.
Unfortunately, Calvert's stringent environmental screens often exclude extractive industry
companies. Because it does not become a shareowner, Calvert is prevented from directly engaging
with these companies.
Asset Management, which also screens
for IP rights, can circumvent this limitation.
"Unlike most SRI mutual funds, since we
manage individual accounts, we are often in a position to engage in activism at companies that
wouldn't pass our screens--companies owned by clients before we begin to manage their portfolios,"
said Shelley Alpern, Trillium's director of social research and advocacy. "For various
reasons--sometimes even for the very purpose of doing activism--some of our clients will hold on to