The Indigenous In Building Global Business Chains

indigenous peoples

Photo: Britannica

The history of business-indigenous relations has been a complex and contentious issue. It was not until the year 2000 that the private sector began to acknowledge and engage with indigenous communities. This marked a significant shift as companies started to prioritize human rights, environmental concerns, and sustainable development in their operations. The introduction of the Equator Principles, formulated by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, was a milestone in fostering positive interactions between the private sector and indigenous populations. Since then, similar approaches have been adopted in various industries such as mining, oil production, and hydropower, signaling a growing recognition of the importance of establishing respectful and mutually beneficial relationships with indigenous peoples.

The issue facing Russia is the challenge of balancing strategic development plans for the Arctic with concerns over indigenous rights. While there are approved concepts for the Arctic development, there remains a lack of clarity on whether to prioritize profit over indigenous rights or vice versa. This dilemma has led to discussions with international experts on how to navigate the competing interests of different stakeholders. Ultimately, the key question is how Russia can move forward in the Arctic while respecting the rights and interests of all involved parties. Yes, efforts are currently underway to strike a balance between various interests, although there is a clear political bias at play. In traditional terms, the state is seen as the governing body that sets regulations, while businesses are responsible for executing these regulations. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, play a crucial role as they serve as a measuring tool for the effectiveness of the processes put in place by both the state and businesses. 

The Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) mechanism serves as a means to engage with resistant indigenous communities, akin to the challenges portrayed in The Taming of the Shrew. This approach, however, does not always yield the desired results. The focus lies on establishing standards for corporate social responsibility, which plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety of production processes, fostering socio-economic growth, and promoting sustainable development for indigenous populations. All these aspects are intertwined and must be considered together to achieve meaningful outcomes.

In recent cases in the Russian Arctic, Norilsk Nickel is planning to develop a lithium deposit in the territories inhabited by the Sami in the Murmansk region. This development may potentially result in the loss of pastures for deer as well. In February 2023, the company initiated preliminary consultations with indigenous representatives. Subsequently, from July to September 2023, Russian scientists conducted a study to assess the impact on the ethnocultural and ethnosocial environment of the Sami, Nenets, and Komi-Izhemtsy communities who reside in the western part of the Lovozero region where the mining operations are planned. However, as of now, no agreements have been reached between the company and the indigenous representatives.

In India, there are two distinct approaches to understanding the role and place of the country in the Arctic (and Antarctic) regions. The first approach, which could be termed as the big-money approach, focuses on financial gain and economic interests. On the other hand, there is the indigenous vision, which takes into account the traditional values of the people, particularly influenced by Mahatma Gandhian environmental thought. This approach emphasizes the significance of bringing environmental concerns down to the village and unit levels. The principle that "nature has enough to satisfy everyone's needs, but not everyone's greed" is central to this perspective.

Contrary to the black and white thinking that often dominates decision-making processes, there is a growing recognition of the need for more informed policies, sustainable business practices, and skilled manpower in addressing climate change and polar ice melting. The demand for skilled entrepreneurs, particularly in the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) sector, is increasing as companies seek to integrate low-carbon outlooks into their operations. In this context, the backbone is science research, it plays a crucial role in providing the necessary knowledge and expertise to tackle the challenges posed by climate change and environmental degradation. By fostering collaboration between different stakeholders and encouraging innovative solutions, India can contribute to the global efforts to protect the Arctic and Antarctic regions for future generations.

It is known that Nornickel company has a team of 3-4 experts responsible for guiding its smart corporate policy on interaction with indigenous and local communities. While this is partially accurate, businesses require knowledgeable and skilled entrepreneurs rather than external expertise. That is why polar-focused Indian institutions supported by the Ministry of Earth Sciences primarily focus on hydrometric studies and involve entrepreneurs in scientific activities.

It is noteworthy that Scandinavian businesses are currently exploring ways to adopt a holistic approach at the grassroots level. One interesting development is the agreement reached between Norway and the Sami, which concluded a four-year dispute regarding Europe's largest complex of onshore wind farms and the rights of indigenous peoples to reindeer grazing. So, Fosen Vind company has built 151 wind power turbines on the winter pastures of local reindeer herders. As part of the agreement, the Sami community will receive a share of the energy generated by the turbines. Additionally, they will be granted access to a new area for winter reindeer grazing. Furthermore, the Sami culture will benefit from a grant of 5 million kroner (approximately 439,000 euros) for its development. This agreement demonstrates a promising collaboration between business and indigenous communities, highlighting the importance of respecting the rights and traditions of indigenous peoples in sustainable development projects.

Indigenous peoples offer unique insights into environmental sustainability, cultural preservation, and community well-being. By engaging with Indigenous communities in a respectful and collaborative manner, businesses can tap into this wealth of knowledge and expertise. In Russia, similar processes are also taking place, albeit more slowly. The society is more conservative, currently experiencing stress and finding it difficult to perceive and accept new things from the outside. It is important to recognize that gradual interaction with representatives of non-Arctic communities in the Arctic will expand and bring positive results. This is particularly crucial when it comes to establishing the ideological framework for Russia's Arctic policy, which is currently facing a decision point. Attention to detail and practice is necessary as they open up opportunities for business development and local communities.

Ekaterina Serova