Foredrag på BI Norwegian Business School

Sametingspresident Silje Karine Muotkas foredrag for studenter på BI Norwegian Business School 31. oktober 2023. Temaet for foredraget var urfolksrettigheter i en global næringslivkontekst (foredraget finnes kun på engelsk):

Greetings good people!

As an alumnus of BI Norwegian Business School, where I completed my thesis in Project Management several years ago, it brings me great joy to return to BI and address a crucial topic: indigenous rights.

Let me begin with the obvious but essential point that indigenous rights cannot be viewed as a problem. I will elaborate on this shortly.

In many societal, knowledge-based, and business-related processes, the talk often revolves around innovations. Innovation is a positive concept highly valued in most enterprises. What does it take to achieve innovation? I believe it's about combining knowledge in ways never done before, and this can be traditional knowledge or research.

Indigenous Peoples worldwide possess extensive knowledge that remains unrecognized, yet it offers crucial solutions to global challenges. Our knowledge represents not just opportunities but also the restoration of justice, along with the preservation of entire knowledge systems that we must safeguard. However, these knowledge systems remain largely inaccessible due to our shared history of injustice, subsequent lack of trust, and the erosion of people, knowledge, and opportunities.

Recently, a comprehensive report was submitted to the Norwegian Parliament by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, investigating research policies and injustices against the Sámi, Forest Finns, Kvens, and Norwegian Finns. This extensive report, spanning over 700 pages, delves into a historical overview describing Norwegian authorities' policies and actions towards these groups at local, regional, and national levels. The implications for the Sámi people and the other minorities covered in the report have been dire.

Thousands of Sámi have lost their language and culture, requiring reparations. The policy of Norwegianization has significantly harmed the Sámi. The testimonies given to the commission by many truth bearers describe the consequences of Norwegianization as individuals, providing us with a better understanding of the injustices and the urgent need for reparative action.

Humans are our most valuable resource. There must be equal opportunities for everyone to utilize their potential with minimal systematic degradation of anyone's possibilities. This approach fosters a society with higher levels of trust and more crucial collaboration.

The process of Norwegianization has led to many individuals not receiving fair treatment, or the same opportunities as others within the same society. My argument stands that recognizing indigenous rights signifies the rectification of injustice, and it is something necessary and right.

But why so much talk about indigenous rights, and who exactly are Indigenous Peoples?

Subjective criteria:

  1. Self-identification as belonging to an Indigenous People

Objective criteria:

  1. Descent from populations inhabiting the country or region at the time of conquest, colonization, or establishment of present state boundaries.
  2. Retention of our own social, economic, cultural, and political institutions, irrespective of our legal status.

In May 2023, Article 108 was changed in the Norwegian Constitution, and the Sámis were mentioned as an Indigenous People. It now says: “The authorities of the state shall create conditions enabling the Sámi people, as an Indigenous People, to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life.”

Globally, there are 476.6 million Indigenous Peoples according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Indigenous Peoples possess the same rights as other populations, alongside specific rights owing to their distinct historical, cultural, and social characteristics. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention No. 169 delineate these specific rights, framing both individual and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples comprehensively. These rights are not "special rights" but rather articulations of universal human rights as they apply to Indigenous Peoples.

One of the pivotal standards for state institutions, under international instruments, is to ensure that no decision affecting Indigenous Peoples is made without consulting them and seeking their free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC).

From the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution’s (NIM) report:

The UN Guiding Principles (UNGP) on Business and Human Rights were established in 2011. These principles assign three pillars and obligations for states to protect and for companies to respect human rights, with both entities ensuring effective complaint mechanisms.

The UNGPs are crucial to indigenous rights, encompassing rights such as self-determination, political participation, protection from discrimination, forced labor, in addition to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 27. They also include the right to life and privacy, safeguarding Indigenous Peoples from environmental or climate damage.

States have a greater responsibility for businesses they own or control, expecting state-owned companies to lead with responsible activities and human rights compliance.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises encompass human rights responsibilities similar to the UNGP. Companies are expected to respect human rights, conduct due diligence, and avoid contributing to negative human rights impacts.

Respect for human rights is the global standard for expected behavior for companies, with a clear expectation from states that companies also contribute to respecting human rights.

These guidelines highlight the necessity for companies to respect human rights and avoid negative impacts in the field of human rights, emphasizing prevention, limitation of negative consequences, and measures to avoid causing or contributing to negative impacts through their activities.

The risks of breaching human rights for companies cannot be understated. Such violations can lead to severe legal, financial, and reputational repercussions. Legal consequences might involve lawsuits, fines, or even sanctions imposed by regulatory bodies or international organizations. 

Financially, there can be significant losses due to legal costs, compensations, or withdrawal of investments by ethical funds and stakeholders. However, the most enduring impact lies in the tarnishing of a company's reputation, leading to diminished consumer trust, boycotts, and a damaged brand image. Beyond the immediate consequences, breaching human rights can result in the erosion of employee morale and loyalty, impacting productivity and talent retention. 

Thus, respecting human rights is not just a moral obligation but a crucial aspect of sustainable and responsible business operations, safeguarding both people and the company's long-term viability.

The Fovsen case stands as an example highlighting the critical importance of due diligence in respecting human rights and indigenous rights within business operations. The wind power plants in the reindeer grazing lands of the Fovsen Sámis were judged illegal by Norway’s supreme court October 11th 2021. This is due to violation of the Fovsen Sámis human rights, according to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 27 (SP27).

The Norwegian government, and the owners of Fosen Vind, among them Statkraft, took a huge risk when they went ahead with their plans. Both the reindeer herders in Fovsen, and The Sámi Parliament, warned against potential breach of SP27 on several occasions. Nevertheless, the Norwegian government chose to give a pre-accession for the concession, even though the matter was under dispute in the justice system. Now we have a situation where the Norwegian government, and the owners and investors, are actively violating human rights. A situation where the government does not respect the supreme court, human rights or the separation of powers principle. And this has been going on for 750 days.

The presence of significant state holdings in Fosen Vind has raised concerns about whether the due diligence conducted adequately encompassed Indigenous Peoples' rights. This case prompts an essential reflection on the need for a more thorough and conscientious approach by companies, especially when collaborating with state-owned enterprises or operating in regions where indigenous communities reside. It underscores the imperative for companies to meticulously assess the potential impacts of their activities on indigenous rights, demonstrating a clear commitment to respecting and safeguarding these rights in their operations. 

The collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, rather than being viewed as a challenge, presents a significant opportunity for us all. Engaging in meaningful partnerships with indigenous communities can ensure possibilities for sustainable and just mutual benefit sharing and business strategies, foster innovation, and promote sustainable development. By respecting Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge, establishing just and good collaborations and embracing the knowledge, perspectives, and practices of indigenous groups and rebuilding trust we can ensure diverse expertise for future generations that offers unique solutions to complex problems.

Additionally, such collaborations not only contribute to upholding human rights - but also enhance the social license to operate, building stronger relationships with Indigenous Peoples and ensuring a more inclusive and responsible approach to business. It certainly will ensure that we do not breach human rights and this is our common interests and important.

Recognizing the value of Indigenous Peoples and safeguard our fundamental rights is not only a step towards rectifying historical injustices but also a forward-thinking strategy for ethical, sustainable, and mutually beneficial business practices.