European MEPs Ramón Jáuregui and Beatriz Becerra have recently hosted a public hearing entitled: "European Enterprises in Indigenous Territories of Latin America: From Conflict to Understanding through Prior Consultation" at European Parliament in Brussels. At the event, institutional, business and indigenous representatives agreed on the need to strengthen the dialogue between states, companies and local communities as well as the legal mechanisms and reward strategies necessary for the promotion of good practices by the business sector. The aim is to guarantee business opportunities while respecting the cultural identity and living conditions of indigenous peoples in Latin America.
Entities supporting the organisation of the public hearing were: the Regional Center for Latin America and the Caribbean in support of the UN Global Compact, the Spanish Cooperation Agency for Development (AECID) and ZABALA Innovation Consulting. The main objective has been to highlight the importance of implementing the processes of prior consultation as a guarantee of non-conflictive business activity in Latin American indigenous territories.
Apart from the two hosting MEPs from the European Parliament’s biggest groups (the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in and the Alliance of Democrats and Liberals), notable attendees also included representatives of European companies operating in Latin America, NGOs, members of the European institutions including representatives from DG Growth and DG DEVCO, as well as other Spanish and Latin American organizations.
During the opening speeches, MEP Ramon Jáuregui stressed that "It is vital that human rights and business development go hand in hand." For this "we must achieve workable international legal standards".
Next, MEP Beatriz Becerra highlighted that "governments should protect peoples and companies". "There is a lack of a legal and binding commitment so that everyone plays by the same rules of game, good will is not enough, and prior consultation is a tool to ensure a fairer society,". For this reason, she has committed to raise this issue within Parliament and between the Directorates-General of the European Commission.
Eva Buendía, of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECID), also emphasized the role of democratic institutions: "In order to guarantee respect for human rights, legislation should not only be imposed on companies. Governments and member states must ensure their compliance.
Diana Chávez, representing the Regional Center for Latin America and the Caribbean, has called for "a constructive dialogue between economic and governmental actors for capacity building." "Companies have the right to know local law, the responsibilities and the rights to exercise their business activity. That's where the role of the state comes in.”
Martin Oelz, director of the Indigenous Peoples Unit of the Gender, Equality and Diversity Service of the International Labor Organization (ILO), said that this dialogue, while challenging, also offered "historic opportunities" that depended on political will. "Regional and interregional participation is very important, as is the possibility of partnerships in the social sphere", he said during his speech.
Ines Elvira Andrade, of the mining company Cerrejon highlighted that in many cases companies do not know how to proceed. In this sense, has valued the role of prior consultation as a tool to harmonize development opportunities with good coexistence.
For her part, Vicky Tauli Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has insisted on the need to strengthen existing mechanisms and create new ones along with the OCD human rights contact points.
Mikel Berraondo, Director of Social Innovation at ZABALA and an international expert on indigenous peoples' rights, believes in the promotion of a shared benefit model between companies and indigenous peoples. He also highlighted the role of the European Union as a promoter of human rights.
Álvaro Pop, a member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues of the United Nations, has called for an alliance between states to strengthen democracy, as well as EU and Latin American relations.
Pedro Ortún, Senior Advisor on CSR and Tourism, DG GROWTH of the European Commission, moderated the Q&A session with a brief introduction on the need for leadership of European institutions, member states and associations and emphasised the opportunity of the ODS.
Audience interventions come from the embassies of Mexico and Colombia, as well as the International Organization of Employers. All explained their activities relating to public consultation and made a series of recommendations to the EU. Numerous NGOs also intervened and stressed the need to reach an understanding to prevent cases of human rights violations that are currently occurring in places like Guatemala, Peru and Brazil.
In her concluding remarks Beatriz Becerra called on the member states to legislate in line with the Sustainable Development Objectives and counted on companies involvement in this process.
On the prior consultation mechanism
Prior consultation is an international legal instrument that prevents conflicts, establishes policy frameworks and long-term public policies. It strengthens the presence and capacity of states for inclusive governance, enhances the role of national human rights bodies, and prioritizes dialogue. It also respects the rights of indigenous peoples to information, preservation of their cultural identity, and facilitates companies to include indigenous peoples input and influence in their project projects, guaranteeing legality and respect for the rights of the affected communities.
Mikel Berraondo, ZABALA´s director of Social Innovation and expert in human rights and indigenous peoples, highlights that more and more countries and companies in Latin America are prioritizing Prior Consultation to solve Conflicts and ensure ethical practices in business activity.