The new finance resource pushing First Nations cultural protection to the front
26 October 2021 at 8:33 am
The toolkit will assist investors in their understanding of best practice approaches to encourage better heritage management processes for sacred sites
Following Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge in 2020, a new toolkit is here to help investors better understand and protect First Nations rights and cultural sites.
An initiative of the Responsible Investment Association Australasia’s (RIAA’s) Human Rights Working Group, the toolkit lays out practical steps for investors to take around engaging with a range of Indigenous stakeholders, and the companies that work on their lands.
The resource outlines “red flags” investors should look out for in companies’ disclosure and engagement practices on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, as well as what socially beneficial investing looks like.
It also suggests detailed questions investors can ask companies, (such as how the company manages and prioritises cultural heritage, safety and awareness), and explains the importance of concepts such as “free, prior and informed consent” and self-determination, principles that are protected by international human rights standards.
While RIAA’s Human Rights Working Group has previously published a Human Rights Investor Toolkit as well as a guide for investors on modern slavery reporting, until now nothing like this has been available for investors on the topic of Indigenous heritage protection.
The resource was produced by finance experts from abdrn, HESTA, AustralianSuper and Refinitiv, and endorsed by First Nations groups such as the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance (FNHPA) and National Native Title Council.
Its release follows the final report from the Senate inquiry into Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge in May 2020, with one of the key recommendations being new laws to protect thousands of sacred sites across Australia.
Investors have a role to play in protecting sacred sites
Estelle Parker, executive programs manager at RIAA, told Pro Bono News that the Juukan Gorge incident awoke many investors to the operational and reputational risk of companies breaching their own internal standards.
“Prior to the Juukan Gorge incident, Rio Tinto was considered a leader in its commitment to cultural heritage protection in Australia,” Parker said.
“[This incident showed] investors that they have a role to play in keeping companies accountable and ensuring such processes are being followed.”
She said that even if the recommendations from the parliamentary inquiry are made, investors will still have a key role to play in ensuring that the rights of First Nations Peoples are protected.
“Investors need tools to be able to effectively engage with companies on this issue to magnify, respect and support the rights of Indigenous Peoples and to mitigate risks in their portfolio of not doing so,” she said.
Parker said for those just starting on this journey and for those taking the next step, the toolkit provided practical engagement questions to ask of companies, as well as what socially beneficial investing looks like.
Kado Muir and Anne Dennis, co-chairs of the FNHPA, said that it was important that investors used their power for good.
“Investors are the owners of the companies that build on, extract from and interact with land, cultural sites and the First Nations people who are custodians of Country,” Muir and Dennis said.
“Being the custodians of capital gives investors a great opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that they support responsible engagement with First Nations People.”
Andrew Gray, AustralianSuper’s director of ESG and stewardship, added that it was critical that companies’ people invested in respected the rights and the cultural heritage of First Nations communities, ensuring they maintained a social licence to operate on Traditional Owners land.
“This toolkit assists investors in their understanding of best practice approaches to encourage better heritage management processes in companies and positive outcomes for First Nations communities,” Gray said.
Access the full toolkit here.