Responsible investors called to action on First Nations Peoples

Educating and inspiring investors in how they engage with First Nations Peoples is part of the expanding remit of responsible investing, according to Kado Muir, chair of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance and the National Native Title Council.

Muir, a Ngalia Traditional Owner and a Wati - a Goldfields Aboriginal cultural and community leader - as well as an anthropologist, archaeologist and linguist, will speak during the forthcoming Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) Australia 2021 conference, on May 7.

FS Sustainability is the media partner for the event. Muir spoke with FS Sustainability ahead of the conference.

"We're going through this at the moment in a lot of ESG conversations," Muir says. "Economic models and economic means in the developed world in particular are undergoing transformation, and the question is for investors and beneficiaries, which side of the transformation do they want to be sitting on? That's essentially it."

The responsibility of including First Nations Peoples in investment processes was brought into sharper focus than ever in May of 2020, when Rio Tinto destroyed a site that represented 46,000 years of culture and history for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples of the Pilbara in Western Australia. Amid global outrage, CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques, Chris Salisbury, chief executive, and Simone Niven group executive, corporate relations, all announced plans to step down.

In December, the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia report, Never Again, found missteps by Rio Tinto, the Australian federal government, the Western Australian government, the PKKP's legal representatives and were let down by native title law.

Rio Tinto has faced significant backlash for the destruction at Juukan Gorge, with institutional investors and asset owners around the world condemning the incident and calling for change.

However, Muir points out that the event at Juukan Gorge took place in the context of hundreds of years of economic activity.

"The arrival of the settler state is driven by the imperatives of accessing, taking and using resources that are generated, into the wealth of the nation," Muir says. "In that process, the exchange is that the First Nations Peoples lose out in that transaction.

"All the infrastructure of the nation of the state is built around facilitating that transaction, and so the marginalisation, the dispossession, of the First Nations Peoples to date has been an important part of facilitating that wealth transfer, and so the deployment of capital through investors into corporations or projects and activities is driven by this unbridled zeal to extract those resources and bring those resources to creating a way of life for the beneficiaries.

"In the process, First Nations Peoples lose out."

As previously reported by FS Sustainability, RIAA has established a new First Nations Peoples Working Group (FNPWG), under the auspices of RIAA's Human Rights Working Group. The group has a three-fold purpose to help: address and advance the rights of First Nations peoples and others subjected to systemic racism; elevate First Nations peoples' participation and voices in investment and the Responsible Investment community; and increase access, scale and impact of First Nations peoples' related investment activity.

"The whole purpose of me coming to talk to RIAA is educated and then inspire action by laying out a roadmap," Muir says. "These are the things that you can do, and then of course then you have to be able to maintain that passion, maintain that focus."

Read more: First Nations PeoplesRIAARio TintoFirst Nations Heritage Protection AllianceJuukan GorgeKado MuirNational Native Title CouncilPuutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoplesResponsible Investment Association Australasia