Julia Gives a Guest Lecture on Sustainable Resources at UCL

“They [non-Indigenous] speak a different language […] not just, you know, English, but I’m speaking about the capacity to actually understand and truly listen. You know, the highest form of respect you can give somebody is to sit and listen.” – anonymous, First Nation Chief, Canada

Since I graduated from my MSc in September 2021, I had a couple of opportunities to go back to my alma mater, University College London, to give guest lectures on a course I graduated from: MSc in Sustainable Resources: Economics, Policy and Transitions. I have been invited to speak about my research on Indigenous rights and my current work at Wardell Armstrong International (WAI).

As an introduction, I presented about social impacts of the extractive industries and Social Impact Assessments, something that I have had the opportunity to work on at WAI. I explained the role of international standards in managing social risk, such as the IFC Performance Standards and Equator Principles, something that our Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) team at WAI specialises in.

The main part of my lectures centres around Indigenous rights and stakeholder consultation. IFC Performance Standard 7 focuses on Indigenous Peoples and requires that the Project developer obtains the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from an Affected Community of Indigenous Peoples, for example when affected by physical resettlement. This concept follows on from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which talks about consulting in good faith with the objective of obtaining consent. This is a weaker wording from the one proposed by Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in a draft declaration, where they originally had “the right to require that states obtain” their FPIC. The final wording of UNDRIP was therefore a consensus between Indigenous Peoples’ struggle for recognition of their rights and nations still coming to terms with sovereignty overlaps of “nations within nation states”.

FPIC fascinated me from the beginning. I recall asking my lecturer whether communities can actually veto a project, and I was surprised to find that there were so many issues surrounding the implementation of FPIC! After researching the topic, I have found many case studies describing communities which had been manipulated, coerced, not fully informed, or exposed to FPIC as a divide-and-rule tactic used by nation states or private project developers.

To investigate these issues, I spoke to 11 study participants in Canada, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous lawyers, Indigenous policy experts and First Nation chiefs. Desktop research of various case studies showed that the assumption from industry stakeholders is often that a community opposes a project because of strong values against resource extraction. However, this is frequently untrue. My research found that communities were often against a project (some might even call it vetoing a project) because of project developers showing a lack of respect towards them  rather than an inherent misalignment of values (for example values standing in opposition to resource extraction). Moreover, there appeared to be an overall lack of trust towards the Canadian government as a result of the colonial history and unresolved land rights issues.

I was pleased to see a number of students coming to ask further questions about the lecture, my research and my work at Wardell Armstrong International. It was inspiring to see so many students truly interested in social issues surrounding natural resource projects. Some of them were considering taking a similar career path as I did, and I truly encouraged them to. One of the graduates I have met during my first lecture joined Wardell Armstrong this month as a social specialist!

Julia is a Social Specialist based in the London office, specialising in Social Impact Assessments, Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Livelihood Restoration Plans and Indigenous rights and consultation.

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