Politics of Poverty

Indigenous leaders call on companies to respect their right to say “no” to mining

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Oxfam InuruID 356985 roadside encampment
“We are with you! Congratulations for your worthy fight,” reads the banner. By appealing to the courts for a proper consent process, Xinka activists in Guatemala halted operations of a silver mine. Now, they staff a roadside encampment (shown here), where they monitor the flow of fuel and cement to the mine to be sure operations don’t continue in secret. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

The International Council on Mining and Metals should heed their call as it revises its standard around company engagement with Indigenous Peoples.

As the demand for so-called “critical” or “transition” minerals – those necessary to construct clean energy infrastructure like solar panels and wind turbines, as well as electric vehicle batteries – soars, there’s never been a more urgent moment to ensure the protection of the right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination. This, according to the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is the ability of Indigenous Peoples to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” This is because an estimated 54% of transition minerals are located on or near Indigenous Peoples’ land globally, with more than 80% of lithium projects and more than 50% of nickel and copper projects found on Indigenous Peoples’ territories.[1] The exploitation of these minerals must not come at the expense of forsaking Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their lands and natural resources.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) runs from April 15-26th this year at the UN Headquarters in New York. This year’s UNPFII focused on the overarching theme of enhancing Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination. On the sidelines of the Forum, I had the opportunity to join an inspiring convening of Indigenous leaders from across the globe as they presented a statement outlining their vision for a just and rights-respecting energy transition to mining companies and investors at a face-to-face gathering.


The statement (Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Participants in the Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the Just Transition) followed a conference bringing together 87 Indigenous Peoples’ representatives and states: “We recognize and support the need to end fossil fuel reliance and shift to renewable energy as critical in addressing the climate crises. However, the current trajectory of the energy transition fails to meet the criteria of justice, social equity and environmental sustainability, particularly from the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples rights and well-being.”

At the convening, Indigenous leaders spoke powerfully of the need to ensure that transition minerals and “green” projects employ a model which respects human rights and ensures the inclusive and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples. They discussed the issue of how to ensure that companies effectively respect the right of Indigenous Peoples to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for project activities that will affect them.

Prabindra Shakya of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Network on Extractives Industries and Energy (AIPPNEE) urged companies to recall that, “Limited benefit-sharing and compensation for mining impacts cannot be equated with FPIC, which includes Indigenous Peoples’ right to say no. FPIC is a tool for exercising the right to self-determination and not a tick-box exercise.”

Oxfam’s research has repeatedly documented how Indigenous Peoples face disproportionate levels of discrimination and gender-based violence when defending their human rights and the environment. Oxfam’s recent report “Recharging Community Consent: Mining companies, battery minerals, and the battle to break from the past,” reviewed the policies of 43 international mining companies, and found that the majority did not have policies or commitments — let alone business practices — consistent with international standards.


Indigenous lives are at risk. Indigenous Peoples that live in proximity to mine sites and extractive industries are often threatened and sometimes killed by actors linked to the mining industry. Over a third of assassinations of human rights defenders and Indigenous Peoples have been linked to the mining industry. At least 64 Indigenous Peoples were assassinated in 2022-23. Companies should be doing more to reduce threats to human rights defenders. New resources from Oxfam and also from the Voluntary Principles on Security on Human Rights include concrete recommendations for action.

The Declaration from last week’s energy transition conference states: “We are experiencing an increasing trend of criminalization and attacks against Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders, who speak out against the impositions of mining and energy projects that violate our rights…The lack of legal recognition and respect of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including the requirement to respect our FPIC, exacerbates land and resource dispossession displacement, destruction of our livelihoods, disintegration of our communities, and disempowerment of Indigenous women and youth in the energy transition.”

Even as some mining companies have made important policy changes, referencing FPIC and human rights defenders in their policies, company practice and implementation at mine sites often falls short. Research by Oxfam’s Peruvian partner organisation, Cooperacción, evaluated the business conduct of one of the world’s largest copper mining and trading companies, Glencore, for their Antapaccay copper mine in the province of Espinar, Cusco. The research found that it fell far short of international standards and its own policies on FPIC.


With the expected boom in mining related to the energy transition, companies and investors must put into place both adequate policies and implementation guidance to safeguard Indigenous Peoples’ right to FPIC. As Joan Carling of Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI) stated at the close of last week’s dialogue with companies and investors: “we have a lot to contribute, and we need to be treated respectfully as equals. The focus on the need for FPIC has been clearly stressed here – and it’s not a procedural issue, it is a way to ensure collective rights and respect for self-determination, including the right to say no.”

Now it remains to be seen whether companies will take this sage advice on board. The International Council of Mining and Metals, which includes many of the largest mining companies in the world, is now finalizing the revision of their Indigenous Peoples Position Statement. This revision represents an important opportunity for the mining sector to come out with a strong statement in support of Indigenous Peoples’ right to FPIC – an opportunity to start to rebuild trust with communities and provide assurances to investors of a new vision for the future. It is crucial that this standard aligns with international law, and that the mining industry does not water down, or caveat the obligation to conduct FPIC, for instance, by deferring ultimate responsibility for FPIC to states. The revised standards must be unequivocal about the right of Indigenous Peoples to say “no” to mining.

Given that many countries with growing mining industries have a poor track record of protecting Indigenous People’s rights, this must be avoided at all costs. It is time for the mining industry and its institutional investors to be accountable for their actions. A just energy transition cannot move forward on the backs of Indigenous Peoples, leaving them sidelined in major development decisions. It must respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and not repeat the mistakes of the past.


[1] Lithium, nickel, and copper are all key components necessary for electric vehicle batteries. (See S. Carrara et al., “Supply Chain Analysis and Material Demand and Forecast in Strategic Technologies and Sectors in the EU – A Foresight Study,” 2023, https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC132889)

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