Aperçu of Seminar in Oslo

10736526_907172582627157_162049254_oThe Rainforest Foundation and the Forum for Development Cooperation of Indigenous Peoples welcomed last Tuesday Nov. 4 the seminar: “Businesses and human rights of indigenous peoples: challenges and protection mechanisms.”

“There are already several treaties and agreements. Even though it represents an essential foundation, we need to move forward with solid implementation. We need tools to strengthen the importance of these documents.” Directly from the start, these words from Rukka Sombolinggi of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) have set the tone of the seminar.

In the wake of the UN guiding Principles for Businesses & Human Rights, and the OECD Guidelines for multinational Enterprises, how are these principles translated on the ground?

The Miljøhuset on Maribos Gate in Oslo was full. More than 80 people sitting side-by-side; Law students, business people, researchers, church representatives, ministry officers and scholars, all here to join a timely discussion. The actors and dynamics are changing in the landscape of businesses and Indigenous rights, more than ever, it is important to see what lies ahead.


As the economic growth is in full force, the pressure for further development increases over the people living on the land. In order for this development to not carry on unchecked, national and international effort have to collaborate. This seminar was a clear example how things are moving in a new direction; where business agents and Indigenous Peoples meet in the same room.

Thus, Pavel Sulyandziga, member of the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Businesses, mentioned the increased trend for businesses to protect Indigenous rights. Sombolinggi highlighted that her people, the Toraja in Indonesia, are not against development. Yet, development according to what the local communities aspire to and in a way that is meaningful to them.

Later on, Jan Kristensen, Director of Sustainability at Telenor Group, shared the reality of how Telenor attempts to moderate their engagement to the OECD guidelines, while operating in one of the world’s most corrupted country; Myanmar. The overall picture was that for now, land rights are the muddy waters where guidelines tend to sink. However, Telenor’s commitment to the guidelines is real, and trust the local contact points (LCP) to be fundamental to open dialogue with the people.

After a short break where discussions fused individuals from so many fields, Hans Petter Graver, Chair of the OECD National contact point Norway explained how the National Contact Points (NCP) are critical to a successful implementation of the guidelines. Once again, the main message being how significant the role of the mediator is in connecting people to policies to businesses. The NCP is the pivotal point where an operation can turn from success to failure. He also urged the importance of the OECD as an important governmentally backed reference point for ethical commercial activities.

Albeit this positive new trend amongst commercial and industrial development, it still remains small steps on a long path. Nonetheless increasing amount of businesses are committing to this path. Just a few years past, very little could foresee a shared space for Indigenous rights to influence business operations. It is encouraging to see cumulative effort coming together, may this be inspiration to keep building the momentum.

Follow more articles about the talks and guest speakers covered during this seminar. Subsequent articles will be published next week.