New study quantifies violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights by extractive industries

Mapuche Indigenous women in Chile. (Reference image by Ministerio Bienes Nacionales, Wikimedia Commons.)

A recent study led by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona found that extractive and industrial development projects, especially mining, threaten the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples.

The research, carried out in collaboration with nine other universities from around the world, is the largest quantitative analysis of this type carried out to date at a global level.

Published in the journal Science Advances, the study is based on data collected over the past decade by the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas), which identified and mapped 3,081 socio-environmental conflicts around the world.

The results show that while Indigenous peoples comprise only 6.2% of the world’s population and steward about a quarter of the world’s land, they are directly affected by at least 34% of all documented environmental conflicts over extractive and industrial development projects. The article covers more than 740 different aboriginal groups affected by such activities, representing at least 15% of the approximately 5,000 groups worldwide.

The Quechua, Mapuche, Gond, Aymara, Nahua, Ijaw, Munda, Kichwa, Guarani and Karen communities are the 10 Indigenous groups that are featured the most in the EJAtlas dataset.

However, the researchers believe that the actual number of affected Indigenous groups is likely much higher as there are still significant data gaps, particularly in Central Asia, Russia and the Pacific.

Mining at the top

The paper notes that eight out of 10 environmental conflicts refer to only four sectors, with mining being the sector that most frequently impacts Indigenous peoples (24.7%), ahead of the fossil fuel sector (20.8%), the agriculture, forestry, fishing and livestock sector (17.5%), and the construction and exploitation of hydraulic dams (15.2%).

According to the data collected, landscape losses (56% of cases), livelihood losses (52%) and land dispossession (50%) are reported to occur globally most often in conflictive development projects.

Projects linked to the agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and livestock sectors were found to cause deforestation (74% of cases), land dispossession (74%), livelihood loss (69%), and biodiversity loss (69%).

“Land grabbing by agribusinesses and other extractive sectors continues to be a major threat to Indigenous peoples,” Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, ICTA-UAB scientist and co-author of the study, said in a media statement. “That is why Indigenous communities all over the world have been mobilizing for decades to have their rights recognized and respected.”

For the research team, the findings demonstrate the sheer size of Indigenous rights violations associated with extractive operations. Thus, they remind industry that international instruments like the International Labour Organisation’s Convention C169 on Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples play an important role in advancing Indigenous rights.

“However, current levels of ratification, implementation and monitoring are insufficient to ensure respect for such rights,” they argue.

Therefore, the researchers emphasize the need for governments to implement measures that further promote Indigenous rights and support environmental justice by ensuring real compliance with existing conventions and the protection of their land rights.

“Governments should apply a zero-tolerance policy towards violations of Indigenous rights and seek trade agreements that are conditional on compliance with the responsibilities of the UN Declaration by the companies involved,” they propose.