Thematic Work

Linking Rights with Community Livelihoods

RRI’s Rights and Livelihoods Program works to empower Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and Afro-descendant Peoples with the evidence, capacity, interactions, and advocacy they need to engage with investors who impact their rights, and to advance their self-determined strategies to manage and govern their lands and forests.

Here are a few highlights of what the program achieved in 2022.

In 2022, RRI’s Rights and Livelihoods Program leveraged global and regional networks among rightsholders, the private sector, and governments in the Global South to mainstream community monitoring of supply chains, investments, and policies. Community monitoring is a tool and pathway to link the lived experiences of communities with corporate and investor practices, and drive improvements in local livelihoods and the recognition of collective land tenure. Grassroots data on the social and environmental impacts of operations and investments are critical to comply with Forest Positive corporate policies and the new EU deforestation and corporate sustainability legislation.

Indigenous women in the DRC | Credit: If Not Us Then Who

At the global level, the Interlaken Group developed a new flagship document that elaborates principles and emerging practice for progressive companies and investors to integrate community monitoring into their human rights and environmental due diligence systems (HREDD). The document was guided by a multi-stakeholder steering committee, comprised of leaders from Unilever, Nestlé, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Earthworm Foundation, Proforest, Oxfam, AsM Law Office, SESDev, and Yayasan Masyarakat Kehutanan Lestari. The Interlaken Group met in London in September to review and finalize the document. The document will be launched in May 2023.

RRI also engaged bilaterally with companies and industry associations to socialize and advance the concept of community monitoring and strong community rights. Notably, Nestlé committed within its community Land Rights Action Plan to leverage community monitoring to mainstream IPLC rights in the company’s governance structure, policies, and control systems. It is notable that Nestlé concretely links IP and LC land tenure to the achievement of other salient issue areas including the right to food, gender equity, and livelihoods, among others. This is a key move from a leading company to proactively address insecure collective rights in its supply chains, which should be leveraged to encourage similar approaches from other companies and investors.

“We have scientific proof that communities at the local level conserve biodiversity better than governments and NGOs combined. Why? Because conservation for communities is not a separate activity. For communities, conservation is life.”

– Patrick Kipalu, RRI’s Africa Program Director

In Indonesia, our collaborator AsM Law Office, a law firm dedicated to protecting Indigenous and local community rights, supported the Talang Mamak community to develop and implement a community-based monitoring framework in its customary territories. Much of the community’s customary area has been cleared for oil palm development to feed mills that are linked to the supply chains of major global brands making Forest Positive commitments. The findings from the monitoring effort resulted in the first meeting between the community and leadership from the local company in over 25 years. The findings from the monitoring initiative have also supported an ongoing complaint to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and direct advocacy against S&G Biofuels, a subsidiary of Samsung and the majority shareholder of the local producer company. In November, after meeting with AsM Law Office and the Talang Mamak leaders in Kuala Lumpur, the RSPO took the unprecedented step of procuring an independent investigator to review the history and the case.

Hands holding raw cocoa beans, Manizales, Colombia | Credit: Pablo Merchan-Montes, Unsplash

In Liberia, we brought together community leaders and other collaborators from AsM Law Office, SESDev, and the Civil Society Oil Palm Working Group (CSOPWG) to a cross-regional exchange to support knowledge sharing, develop collective monitoring strategies across the RRI coalition in Liberia and Indonesia, and to set the stage for a new pilot project in Liberia in collaboration with the private and public sectors. The companies engaged in the palm oil sector in Liberia are the same as those being monitored in Indonesia and/or are linked with the Interlaken Group. The exchange yielded strong interest from the Liberian government to integrate community monitoring into its forthcoming national review of the oil palm sector and its contribution to Liberia’s development goals. SESDev and the CSOPWG subsequently held two meetings with Liberian legislators, agency leaders, and palm oil companies, resulting in commitments from government and companies to develop a joint monitoring framework with communities in 2023.

A key lesson we learned in 2022 was that community monitoring is a pathway to leveraging private sector influence to realize stronger community rights and livelihoods. Monitoring frameworks, when agreed and accepted by all parties, can act as a bridge to communicate the communities’ challenges into language and data that companies can respond to. This concrete connection has historically been missing from community-company engagement. In the cases of Indonesia and Liberia, the communities’ ask is for recognition of land rights and opportunities to participate economically in investments in their territories. We see community monitoring as a vital vehicle to link commitments from companies like Nestlé to local peoples’ economic aspirations and livelihoods.