UNDRIP at 10: Is respect for international Indigenous rights becoming a standard of practice for Canadian companies?

By: Delaney Greig, Engagement Analyst

Today, August 9, marks the International Day of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples’. This year’s theme is the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The theme is well timed as just last year Canada removed its qualifications and committed to fully implementing UNDRIP. As a result more and more Canadian organizations and companies have begun to grapple with what UNDRIP means for their own activities.

In fact, in its final report in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, through Call to Action 92, called on businesses in Canada to do just that: “adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities”.

When SHARE engages companies about their Indigenous relations policies and practices we frequently hear that they are waiting for direction from the federal government before making a commitment to adopt UNDRIP into their practices. Yet there is no need for this hesitation. Nothing is barring companies in Canada from proactively adopting UNDRIP as a guide to business conduct and they may be missing out on opportunities by failing to do so.

Companies that fail to operate in a way that respects an international law standard like UNDRIP expose themselves to risks of reputational damage, regulatory intervention, litigation, project delays and disruptions, shut downs and financial loss. Meanwhile, exciting opportunities can be cultivated by incorporating UNDRIP as a framework for Indigenous relations: a new and growing talent pool and customer base; long-term reliable business partners; local employees, suppliers and contractors; development of new and innovative services and products; and greater operational stability.

SHARE recently released the discussion paper, Business and Reconciliation: How can investors evaluate the efforts of Canadian public companies? , which looks at the public disclosures of 173 TSX-listed Canadian companies in eight sector indices to benchmark their reporting with the substance of TRC Call to Action 92. The paper was funded by Edmonton Community Foundation, Inspirit Foundation, the McConnell Family Foundation, and Vancity Community Foundation; all institutional investors committed to implementing investment practices that support reconciliation in Canada.

The results show that while some companies are beginning to talk about Indigenous rights in their reporting to the public and investors, most of the companies studied provided limited information on their policies and practices. This situation leaves investors and the public in the dark as to whether Canadian companies are heeding the TRC call to adopt UNDRIP.

SHARE will be seeking feedback on the discussion paper through workshops with Indigenous organizations and institutional investors over the coming months, and using the findings to inform engagement with investee companies about their performance and reporting on Indigenous issues.

SHARE is committed to working with our Indigenous partners and our institutional investor network to build business and investment practices that align with UNDRIP for a productive, sustainable and inclusive Canadian economy.

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