Company Engagement with First Nations People

One of the most stunning gorges at Karijini National Park in Western Australia. The bright red rocks bring a calming glow to the series of pools along the river.

In 2020, the destruction of significant sites in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia caused irreversible loss of First Nations’ cultural heritage. The destruction represented a failure to respect the rights of the local First Nations people to protect their sacred sites and enjoy a deep and spiritual connection to their land. Harm caused to the lands, culture and heritage of First Nations has a deep and often irreversible impact on communities, and represents a loss for the world’s heritage.

The potential for companies to impact First Nations people’s lands, communities and cultural heritage presents an increasingly recognised investment risk.   There is growing global scrutiny of companies’ interactions with First Nations people, and where company behaviour does not meet appropriate standards, the risk of significant investment loss is heightened.

Why is it important?

It is widely understood internationally that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights and cultural heritage of the communities that they impact. Risks and opportunities apply to companies operating across various sectors that impact First Nations communities. Failure to uphold the rights of First Nations people, including the right to protect and enjoy their lands and cultural heritage carries a significant human, social and financial cost.

Respecting the rights of First Nations people is intrinsically linked with managing a company’s long-term interests. Significant financial costs can arise from unconstructive relationships with First Nations people. These costs can stem from production implications, project cancellations or delays, legal fees, reputational damage, difficulties retaining employees, and even physical damage where conflict arises. Ultimately, a company’s long-term success and ability to operate can be undermined.

The Working Group on Rights and Cultural Heritage Risk Management

In order to better understand the investment risks involved in company engagement with First Nations people, ACSI and its members established a Working Group on Rights and Cultural Heritage Risk Management. The Group has worked closely with First Nations leaders and has been engaging with relevant experts in Australia and overseas. 

As institutional investors, ACSI’s members want to see the risks of harm to cultural heritage and communities effectively mitigated and managed through principled and constructive engagement between companies and First Nations people. The Working Group builds on ACSI’s existing work program related to the financial risks associated with ESG issues.

Research: Company engagement with First Nations people

In 2021, ACSI undertook research to better understand current company practice in engagement with

First Nations people, identify the investment risks that exist as a result of mismanagement of relationships and identify ‘good practice’ in engagement with First Nations people.

You can read our research here.

ACSI Policy

ACSI engages with relevant companies that face a material risk to understand how they are working to effectively manage and mitigate that risk. ACSI has developed a policy which outlines expectations of companies that engage with First Nations people.

You can read our policy here.  

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