Building corporate capacity to create constructive relationships based on a respect for indigenous people's rights


Tactical Aim: 
Country or Region: 

Corporate accountability for abuse of indigenous peoples and their resources has emerged a significant target area of human rights activism. At the same time, opportunities and pressures for development will inevitably continue to produce contentious relationships between extractive industries and indigenous communities. Recognizing the need for establishing constructive dialogue, First People’s Worldwide (FPW) focuses on building and supporting positive, human rights-focused relationships between indigenous interests and the business sector. Through an alliance with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), FPW provides business partners with capacity-building training in this area, thus increasing corporate capacity to recognize and address human rights issues arising from their business practices. 

In developing this tactic, FPW based their work on shared experiences from indigenous people’s communities and corporate engagement, and used research to investigate assumptions from both sides. For example, indigenous peoples may assume that the company, by nature, is bad, and that the extractive industry is a problematic activity which must be stopped. From the corporate side it is assumed that indigenous people will do all they can to stop the activity, regardless of whether it may benefit them. FWP’s corporate capacity-building training encourages businesses to take an alternative approach and initiate dialogue where both communities and companies work together to more accurately assess the cost-benefits, explore ways to mitigate the costs and maximize the benefits, and find out together what this would look like for the community and the extractive industry.

To implement the tactic, FPW first identified BSR as a powerful partner because of its work in a variety of areas such as labor, security issues and relationships with indigenous peoples, as well as its established business member network. FPW and BSR then worked together to develop a corporate capacity building training, focusing on dealing with prior consent and land rights. FPW encourages participants to incorporate lessons learned through the training to lay foundations for discussing these issues directly with indigenous people’s communities. The 2.5 day training was intentionally developed as a general training, rather than one specific to a specific region or indigenous group. It is based on a “best practices” research gathered from contact with both extraction companies and indigenous people’s communities. Interactive sessions involving role play exercises give participants a feel of what it’s like on the other side of the table, the expectations that may be placed on indigenous community representatives.

A large training conducted in Vancouver in March 2003 with nine companies from mining, oil and gas companies. Participants came from a broad mix of business roles, from headquarter office personnel to those with general corporate responsibilities, performance or executive team level positions, operations responsibility, and people in the field. This was a helpful mix because companies can be so huge that developing company-wide understanding at many different levels is a challenge when the company is large and dispersed. Moreover, decision-making levels are often very local until there’s a problem, such as with indigenous people’s issues, at which time headquarters takes over.

Three out of nine companies who participated in the training have requested follow-up interaction and training. Many company and indigenous people concerns are site specific involving legal contexts. These requests confirm both the impact of the general training model and its limitations; subsequent interaction will deal the specific aspects that will require situation specific adjustments.

The tactic takes actual experiences from communities and companies to develop directions based on best practices and lessons learned. Acknowledging that constructive relationships can be created between indigenous people’s communities and corporate structures is a critical point for people around the world to know and learn. FTP’s research documented the benefits gained on both sides when full community participation shapes the corporate relationship, and their training aims to foster this possibility. One significant drawback is that smaller companies don’t have the resources to invest in this level of community dialogue at the start-up phase; however, as extractive business relationships last for 30-50 years depending on the resource being extracted, laying solid groundwork at the outset of a relationship is essential for everyone involved.


For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.