Businesses lagging behind in Indigenous reconciliation: Report

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["Of the 173 companies surveyed, only 10 made any commitment to international law. Only five companies specifically mentioned a commitment to free and prior informed consent." *RON*]

Meagan Gillmore, rabble.ca, 11 August 2017

Photo: michael_swan/flickr
Canadian companies have a long way to go to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, a recent report argues.

SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research and Education), a non-profit that advises institutional investors like foundations and religious organizations about ethical and socially responsible investments, released a study last month about how well publicly listed companies report on Indigenous relations.

The study includes results from 173 publicly listed companies from financial, telecommunications, materials, energy, renewable energy and clean technology, health care, and consumer sectors. Researchers looked at how companies reported about the number of Indigenous employees at their company and their roles; recruitment, education and advancement of Indigenous employees; contracting with Indigenous companies; how companies complied with international laws about Indigenous rights, particularly the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); policies about free and prior informed consent and companies' investments in Indigenous communities. Canada fully committed to implement UNDRIP last year.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) final report in 2015 called on businesses to use the UNDRIP as a framework for promoting reconciliation. This includes committing to building meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities and obtaining free and prior informed consent; making sure Indigenous people have access to jobs and employment training and educating employees about Indigenous history and culture.

Of the 173 companies surveyed, only 10 made any commitment to international law. Only five companies specifically mentioned a commitment to free and prior informed consent: three mining companies, an energy company and a financial company. Consent can be a difficult concept to define, but it involves building relationships with affected communities early on in a project's development, and involving them in the management and oversight of projects so the authority is shared, said Delaney Greig, a co-author of the report.

This means companies need to treat Indigenous people as "neighbours and partners," said Greig, and look for "opportunities for relationship-building between groups instead of looking at [Indigenous people] as this outside other who's a risk."

Often, companies view building relationships with Indigenous people as a way to prevent a lawsuit or protest, Greig said. They may not consult with them until environmental assessments are needed.

Businesses can begin building better relationships with Indigenous communities by having Indigenous people involved in senior roles where they can guide companies towards reconciliation.

Only two companies reported having an Indigenous board member, one in each company, said Greig.

"To expect those two individuals to represent the entire company and cause shifts in the way these enormous organizations operate is not reasonable," she said.

Many companies -- 18.5 per cent -- said they prioritize hiring Indigenous employees, and many use Indigenous organizations in the recruitment process. But companies provided little data about the types of jobs Indigenous people had. This makes it hard to determine if they are in entry-level, temporary or upper-management roles.

Only 11 per cent of companies gave quantitative data about their Indigenous employees, and only five per cent gave information about what level Indigenous employees were at in the company.

In general, few companies provided any reporting about their relationships with Indigenous peoples. Companies that did report were more likely to include case studies and examples instead of facts and figures. This cursory detail and lack of specifics makes it difficult to know exactly how companies relate to Indigenous peoples, or if their interactions with Indigenous peoples are isolated activities related to specific projects, something to help the company's public relations or something the company is pursuing intentionally, said Greig.

Companies were most likely to report about their community involvement with Indigenous peoples. Thirty per cent of the companies surveyed reported on this. But even then, specific details about their involvement were slim and reporting mainly consisted of anecdotes. For many companies, the report says, this community involvement was part of their broader philanthropic activities, and the only indicator on which they reported. A company's financial contributions to a community, or investment in community initiatives may be helpful, the report says, but they may also be short-term, or motivated by the company's interest.

The report indicates a large gap in companies' reporting on their relationships with Indigenous peoples, but it doesn't offer clear reasons for why this gap exists.

Some companies may not be used to reporting on the topic, said Greig. For example, telecommunications and financial companies scored the highest in including Indigenous people in employment diversity goals. All four telecommunications companies surveyed for the report reported on this, as did 30 per cent of financial institutions. But as the report notes, banks and telecommunications companies are required by federal law to report on employment diversity, including the number of Indigenous people in their workforce, and therefore already have systems in place to collect and disseminate this data.

Greig said it was particularly surprising how poor the reporting from sustainable energy companies was. Many Indigenous groups are interested in renewable energy, and energy projects often have a large impact on their land. None of the 19 companies in this sector reported any mention of respecting Indigenous rights in international law or obtaining free and prior informed consent -- even though the report says many proposed wind, solar and hydro developments are located on traditional Indigenous territories.

SHARE plans to hold workshops with Indigenous and non-Indigenous business leaders and investors to learn more about how companies can pursue reconciliation with Indigenous communities, Greig said.

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