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July 30, 2010
Investors Urge US to Support Rights of Indigenous Peoples
    by Robert Kropp

Calvert and the Indigenous Peoples Working Group of the Social Investment Forum encourage the US State Department in its reconsideration of the 2007 vote against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Adopted by the United Nations' General Assembly in September 2007, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as "a historic moment when UN Member States and indigenous peoples reconciled with their painful histories and resolved to move forward together on the path of human rights, justice and development for all."

The 46 articles of the Declaration acknowledge that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices, recognize the inherent rights of indigenous peoples, and reaffirm their right to freedom from discrimination of any kind.

The Declaration was originally adopted by an overwhelming majority of the General Assembly, with 143 countries voting in favor of it. Only four countries voted against it. The United States under the George W. Bush administration was one, and Australia, Canada, and New Zealand were the others. The four nations that voted against the Declaration all have significant indigenous populations.

At the time of the vote, Robert Hagen, US Advisor at the UN, described the Declaration as "confusing, and risks endless conflicting interpretations and debate about its application," and stated, "We cannot lend our support to such a text."

Since then, the government of New Zealand announced its support for the Declaration, as has Australia. Canada has announced its intention to endorse the Declaration, leaving the US as the only country in the UN that has not endorsed it.

The State Department, together with other Federal agencies, recently held consultations with federally recognized Indian tribes, as well as meetings with interested nongovernmental organizations and other stakeholders, on the review of the Declaration.

On April 20, Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, in announcing the Obama administration's decision to reconsider the US decision on the Declaration, stated, "We recognize that, for many around the world, this Declaration provides a framework for addressing indigenous issues."

Calvert Investments was among the organizations that offered comments on the State Department's review of the Declaration. In 1999, Calvert became the first sustainable investor to "develop explicit criteria to address the rights and cultural integrity of American Indians and Indigenous Peoples around the world," according to a press release announcing its support for adoption of the Declaration by the US.

The press release continued, "Calvert continually engages with companies to develop appropriate policies and to demonstrate best practices insofar as their products, services and operations affect the lives, culture and traditions of Indigenous Peoples."

In her
letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Barbara Krumsiek, President and CEO of Calvert, stated, "UNDRIP recognizes the collective and individual rights of 370 million people worldwide."

The letter continued, "We believe that having US support for UNDRIP would allow more companies to be responsive to our requests to develop policies and programs to promote Indigenous Peoples' rights or to publicly disclose those that are already established as a model for others."

SocialFunds.com spoke with Reed Montague, Sustainability Analyst at Calvert, about the firm's efforts to have the US ratify the Declaration.

"This was the first time that a UN document was created by the people that are going to be using it," Montague said. "We wrote a letter to the UN ambassador at the time, encouraging him to vote for it."

Referring to Calvert's history of engagement in support of the rights of indigenous peoples, Montague said, "When we became the first US firm to develop criteria for the protection of indigenous peoples, they did not have a voice, and we believed we had a role to play." In its analysis of the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) performance of companies, Montague continued, Calvert "looks at companies operating on or directly affecting the land of indigenous people."

The material risks to companies that disregard the rights of indigenous peoples were described in a recently published
report from EIRIS, the UK-based investment research firm.

In its report on the mining operations of Vedanta Resources in the Orissa region of India, EIRIS found that by failing to adequately consult with indigenous communities, the company has subjected itself to intense scrutiny and criticism from international civil society organizations. EIRIS refers to John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on business and human rights, as pointing out that "community challenges on environmental and human rights grounds…can cause delays in permits, reduced output, reputational hits and project cancellations."

The ownership responsibilities of investors, according to EIRIS, include engagement with companies to improve ESG performance, encourage the creation of sustainable wealth, and broaden corporate accountability to include as key stakeholders the communities in which they operate.

Referring to Calvert's involvement with the State Department's reconsideration of the Declaration, Montague said, "We wanted to lend our voice, and we feel that as investors we have a different perspective. We would like to see companies agree to follow the Declaration."

The
Indigenous Peoples Working Group (IPWG) of the Social Investment Forum (SIF) has also supported the Declaration, according to Montague and Steven Heim, Managing Director and Director of ESG Research and Advocacy at Boston Common Asset Management. Both Heim and Montague are members of the IPWG's Steering Committee.

The mission of the IPWG is "to coordinate research, outreach, education, and advocacy around investment issues that affect indigenous peoples' cultures and communities."

In a letter sent to President Obama today, a coalition of investors stated, "We encourage corporations to apply the principles of the Declaration in order to uphold human rights and to mitigate project and reputational risks. However, some companies have said the lack of support by the U.S. makes it harder for them to formally acknowledge the Declaration in their corporate policies."

"We expect that companies that respect Indigenous Peoples rights and build good relations with Indigenous Nations will prosper in the long run," the letter continued.

 

 
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