Rights of Indigenous People

Introducing the Issue

Globally, there are over 476 million Indigenous People living in over 90 countries. Historically, indigenous peoples have been disproportionately marginalised, dispossessed and exploited by a dominant society and denied basic political, social and cultural rights. Businesses often cite the need to meet market demands for raw materials as justification for infringing the rights of indigenous peoples and seizing their lands. Thus the rights of indigenous peoples are pressing concerns somewhere down the supply chain of almost all businesses and organisations. 

Contribute to the Development of the Rights of Indigenous People Benchmark

Exploring the Issue

Indigenous peoples are distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced. The World Bank estimates that there are over 476 million Indigenous Peoples making up 5,000 unique groups that live in over 90 countries.

Indigenous People’s right to self-determination and the protection of their land, culture and livelihood is protected by the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Despite this, indigenous peoples remain disadvantaged facing human rights abuses such as violence, forced migration and forced assimilation by governments and businesses around the world. They face marginalisation and discrimination in legal systems, which makes them more vulnerable to abuse.

Indigenous human rights advocates who call for change are frequently targets of state-sponsored harassment and violence. Additionally, they may be killed and physically assaulted simply for belonging to an indigenous group. Indigenous peoples have been accused of treason or terrorism for peacefully attempting to protect their cultural identity or exert authority over their ancestral lands, which are frequently abundant in resources and biodiversity.

As indigenous peoples often lack formal recognition over their lands, territories and natural resources, businesses have often found ways to exploit indigenous lands.

Outside of certain high risk sectors such as agribusiness, mining, forestry, biofuels, energy and tourism, businesses are unlikely to be intentionally participating in the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, although supply chain risks exist for practically all businesses irrespective of size, sector or location.

Any business or organisation has the ability to support indigenous peoples (through e.g. a related cause or campaign it chooses to support) by using its voice or any position of power to call out bad actors and encourage governments to respect the rights of indigenous peoples, raising public awareness (e.g. through social media), donating to indigenous peoples’ rights campaigns, and/or by purchasing goods and services from indigenous peoples.


Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a universal framework developed by the United Nations of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous Peoples of the world. It elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of Indigenous Peoples.

Forced Assimilation is the involuntary process of cultural assimilation of religious or ethnic minority groups during which they are forced to adopt language, identity, norms, mores, customs, traditions, values, mentality, perceptions, way of life, and often religion/ideology of established and generally larger communities belonging to dominant culture by government.

Forced Migration refers to a migratory movement which, although the drivers can be diverse, involves force, compulsion, or coercion.

Human Rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Indigenous Peoples are distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the land and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced.

Marginalisation is the act of placing a person or thing in a position of lesser importance, influence, or power; the state of being placed in such a position.

Self-determination is the process by which a group of people, usually possessing a certain degree of national consciousness, form their own state and choose their own government.

Links & Further Resources


Treaties Still Matter: The Dakota Access Pipeline

Native Knowledge

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian looks at the clashes between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners over the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was developed to transfer crude oil. The Sioux argue that the pipeline violates historical treaties that gave them the rights to the land.

There Is A War On Nature: Dom Phillips Was Killed Trying To Tell You About It 

The Guardian

The death of British journalist Dom Phillips and environmental defender Bruno Pereira in Brazil highlights the danger that indigenous peoples have to face in trying to protect their lands and the environment from exploitative governments.

Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights As A Minimum Standard For Corporate Practice

Stanford Social Innovation Review

This article explores the role of businesses in protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples with the direction of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.


Indigenous Peoples Overview

World Bank

World Bank’s analysis of Indigenous peoples including numbers, locations, and the issues that they face.

Indigenous Peoples

Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s analysis of Indigenous peoples including numbers, the issues that they face, and case studies by country.

Who Are Indigenous Peoples?

United Nations

The United Nations Business and Human Rights Navigator breaks down the different human rights that governments and businesses commonly violate when interacting with Indigenous Peoples.