Taking ethical guidelines into the field for evaluation by indigenous stakeholders

Authors: Research Professor Florian Stammler, Sven-Roald Nystø, Dr Aytalina Ivanova

Using anthropological fieldwork methods, we took various key international standards and guidelines to industry representatives, local administrators, and nomadic reindeer herders across several sites in the Norwegian and Russian North. The aim was to subject these documents to the critique of the indigenous people who are deeply – and potentially negatively – affected by oil, gas, and mining developments. As far as we know, this has never been done before, especially in remote areas of Russia.

Standards and guidelines included: 

• the indigenous peoples’ social responsibility policy of the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association

• the Environmental and Social Performance Standards of the International Financial Corporation (IFC);

• the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles, also known as the Ruggie Principles).

Sites were in:

• the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YNAO), Russia’s prime gas province;

• the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO), an important oil province in European Russia;

• the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), a major resource base in northeastern Russia;

• Divtasvuodna/Tysfjord, a mining, mineral-processing and fish-farming municipality in Nordland County, Norway.

The field team was led by a European social anthropologist and included an indigenous legal scholar and an indigenous politician.

As an exercise in field research, this paper demonstrates the following:

• the level of detail with which guidelines can be scrutinised and commented on by the most directly-affected local stakeholders;

• how such scrutiny can have an immediate, direct effect on the local level of company practice; how indigenous stakeholders can readily and immediately respond to best practice guidelines and propose practical amendments and improvements based on their own specialised knowledge and experience.;

• how the gap can be narrowed between texts in the abstract and practice on the ground, by providing feedback to companies that are willing to listen and learn.

Recommendations include:

• absorbing the lessons of the above points and building them into guidelines and policies;

• encouraging the state to be more active in engaging locally in awareness-raising, cooperating with indigenous peoples, and lobbying more proactively with companies to organise meetings and public hearings where such guidelines are introduced, discussed, and negotiated – and ensuring adherence to those guidelines.

• Norway to evaluate the challenges with its domestic implementation of the ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.

The paper is 23 pages long and contains a map, 5 photographs, 4 case studies, a summary of 4 instruments, a list of acronyms and abbreviations, and lists of legal documents and standards, papers and reports.