Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Indigenous peoples and economy: Advancing standards for business interaction with indigenous peoples

Neighbours in a polar apartment

22 september 2023

In the Russian Federation, several state regulatory documents are in operation that outline the interaction between government, business and indigenous minorities of the North. These include the Federal Laws 'On Guarantees of the Rights of Indigenous Minorities of the Russian Federation,' 'On State Support for Entrepreneurial Activity in the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation' and a programme for state support of traditional economic activities of indigenous minorities in the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation. These documents outline general provisions for business and indigenous minorities to interact, however, the specifics of practical application have not yet been fully legislated. A broad discussion has unfolded around the evolution of current legislation among both governmental and business circles.

As stated by Maxim Dankin, Director of the Department for the Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and Implementation of Infrastructure Projects of the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, the state does not aim to impose social obligations on all residents of the AZRF without exception. In his address at the EEF session 'Residents of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation: Implementing Business Responsibility Standards with Indigenous Minorities,' he highlighted that the authorities' objective is to foster balanced entrepreneurial activity in the Arctic while safeguarding the rights of indigenous minorities. At present, the standard of accountability of AZRF residents towards indigenous peoples is advisory in nature and is in the process of active development. The development considered the experiences of 'industry leaders' like Norilsk Nickel, that independently establish comprehensive systems for engaging with local populations.


'We started with the understanding that good created by force is evil,' stated Andrey Grachev, Vice President for Federal and Regional Programmes at MMC Norilsk Nickel, during the discussion. 


He stated that the company initially conducted extensive research involving a majority of indigenous communities that have some form of contact with its Polar divisions. Based on the survey results, over 40 items totalling more than RUB 2 bn were incorporated into the 5-year action plan. This includes projects such as building clubs, workshops for processing venison and fish, constructing new housing, and so on. Additionally, Nornickel established a coordination council consisting of representatives from 60 communities, which makes amendments to the programme execution through voting, as well as a department dedicated to working with indigenous minorities, operating between council sessions. One of the council's suggestions was a project to revive the Enets script, which received the company's support.

Another instance of responsible engagement between business and indigenous minorities is demonstrated by Yanolovo JSC's operations. During the presentation, Alexander Larionov, Deputy Director of the company, shared that as part of the agreement between Ust-Yansky Ulus Municipality and Yanolovo JSC, support is provided to local students studying mining and geological specialties, passenger and cargo transportation is facilitated on challenging road sections, and an all-terrain vehicle fleet was even established for district residents. The company also contributed to the Clean Arctic project by clearing long-standing waste in the Sailyk settlement. The cleared space will be used to construct a sports field.

However, despite the positive experiences of leaders in responsible engagement with indigenous minorities, most discussion participants agree on the need for establishing uniform guidelines for interacting with local communities. For example, there is an urgent need to determine the timing for consultations with indigenous peoples before initiating a project. Currently, many issues are still being discussed and information is being collected. Contrary to the belief that Russia is lagging behind in global practices, it is actually leading in many areas.

Alexey Tsykarev emphasised that the number of countries that have made efforts to establish such standards can be counted on one hand. According to him, Russian legislation aligns perfectly in spirit and form with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Currently, the Arctic region of Russia is inhabited by 19 small indigenous minorities of the North, with a population exceeding 102,000. The evolution of legislation concerning indigenous minorities should facilitate their integration into the emerging economy of the AZRF. This includes not only support in infrastructure development and social guarantees but also incorporating traditional industries into the industrial civilisation. Maxim Dankin believes that the state's role is to provide the tools that will enhance the quality of life for thousands without drastically altering their lifestyle and habitat.

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