Human Rights - Indigenous People

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For several years, proponents have been raising concerns about the extent to which indigenous peoples’ rights are addressed, usually in the context of natural resource extraction and financing for such activities. Proponents are reiterating these concerns in several resubmissions. Several make explicit reference to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the controversial project near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation that was blocked by the Obama administration and then approved by the Trump administration’s Army Corps of Engineers early last year.

Harrington Investments has withdrawn a proposal to Goldman Sachs that the company had challenged at the SEC. The resolution sought a report

on the North Dakota Access Pipeline, describing its financing of companies involved in the pipeline, how or whether its Indigenous rights policy was applied to the financing of such companies, and whether Goldman Sachs complied with its Indigenous rights policy in financing such companies. Building upon that analysis, shareholders request the report also consider policy options to improve implementation of its Indigenous rights policy, such as enhancing the risk metrics and due diligence process for reviewing financed companies’ policies and practices for consistency with Goldman Sachs Indigenous rights policy, and mechanisms for engaging companies that fail to adhere to Goldman Sachs’ Indigenous rights policy. Shareholders request the report be prepared at reasonable expense and exclude proprietary or legally privileged information.

The company told the SEC the resolution was false and misleading, saying it impugned the company and was too vague; was moot since Goldman already has an indigenous peoples policy; and related to ordinary business since it was about customer relations and sought to micromanage it. The withdrawal came before any response. As You Sow withdrew a similar resolution in 2017 after a company challenge, when the company agreed to review its policies about financing oil and gas projects “with the potential for severe community impacts.” It also agreed to work on indigenous peoples’ policies.

Another resubmission, at Marathon Petroleum, earned 35.3 percent in 2017, after the SEC rejected several arguments from the company about why it should be excluded. It also references the Dakota Access Pipeline and asks for a report: 

that describes the due diligence process used to identify and address environmental and social risks, including Indigenous rights risk, in reviewing potential acquisitions. Such a report should consider:

  • Which committees, departments and/or managers are responsible for review, oversight and verification;
  • How social and environmental risks are identified and assessed;
  • Which international standards are used to define the company’s due diligence procedures;
  • How this information informs and is weighted in acquisition decisions;
  • If and how risks identified were disclosed to shareholders;
  • Whether MPLX has an exit option in DAPL;
  • Whether Marathon will adjust its policies and practices so as to not become entangled with such situations in the future.

Two withdrawals have come at Bank of America and Citigroup, where an identical proposal asked each to “to establish a Human and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Policy to ensure that safe-guarding such rights is considered whenever relevant to general corporate and commercial financing.” Harrington Investments withdrew after Bank of America argued the proposal was moot, before any SEC response. At Citi, Mercy Investments reached an agreement after discussions about the bank’s indigenous peoples’ policy.

A final proposal at Wells Fargo from Proxy Impact follows one that last year was similar but more detailed, which earned 18 percent support. The resolution this year asks that the bank

develop and adopt a global policy regarding the rights of indigenous peoples (the “policy”), which includes respect for the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities affected by WFC financing. The policy should include oversight mechanisms for its continued development, evaluation and implementation and should be posted on its website by May 2019.

The company successfully challenged the resolution at the SEC, which agreed with its argument that it was substantially implemented by existing company policies.

(Also see Unconventional Fossil Energy for a proposal on tar sands financing at JPMorgan Chase that also addresses indigenous peoples’ rights.)