Indigenous Peoples and International Trade: A Look at Land Rights


On International Indigenous People’s Day, we are reminded of the vital connection between international trade and Indigenous Peoples. For centuries, Indigenous Peoples have been deeply connected to their ancestral lands, which are home to natural resources valuable to spiritual and economic wellbeing. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through global trade, we must uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples to their lands, territories, and resources and to preserve their cultural heritage and economic livelihoods. The TRADE Hub has also found that closer attention to issues of fairness in trade, equity, and justice, and to the perspectives and solutions advanced by Indigenous Peoples also provide solutions to biodiversity loss.  

Crop Plantation Expansion Can Threaten Indigenous Land Rights and Livelihoods 

The expansion of crop plantations poses a significant threat to Indigenous land rights and livelihoods. Large-scale agricultural activities, exemplified by soy and palm oil plantations, can encroach upon ancestral lands, violating the rights of Indigenous Peoples to manage their lands and territories and to practice their traditions and customs. This can lead to both financial and cultural losses as well as compromised diet quality and food security, disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable communities. Land appropriation caused by such expansions leads to the displacement of Indigenous Peoples, giving rise to violent conflicts and human rights violations.  

The impact of soy expansion on indigenous groups in Argentinian Chaco is notable. Deforestation, driven by large-scale agricultural growth and the privatization of communal forested land, has led to a decline in available forest resources. Local firewood users have reduced access to forest resources due to recent rural developments, which limits alternative income opportunities, energy access, and the freedom to lead a forest-based lifestyle, such as freely sleeping in the forest.  

Upholding Free Prior and Informed Consent 

Promoting an inclusive and ethical international trade environment requires the recognition of rights to meaningfully participate in environmental decision-making and the application of the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) when engaging with Indigenous Peoples. FPIC is intended to provide these communities with the opportunity to meaningfully participate in decisions that may affect their lands, resources, and traditional knowledge. In Large-Scale Land Acquisitions (LSLAs), Indigenous Peoples can face displacement without fair compensation, leading to reduced access to forest resources and alternative income opportunities.  

Though in many cases they should be protected by legal requirements for FPIC such as under Article 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous People often have limited bargaining power, and are left unable to resist LSLAs in the current system. Indigenous People need to maintain the right to reject assimilation, and to obtain fair compensation if they decide to participate in LSLAs. Redesigning fair compensation mechanisms, providing legal protection of land tenure, and acknowledging non-economic values can lead to the development of more appropriate compensation schemes in LSLAs. What remains important in Indigenous land rights is that Indigenous Peoples need to maintain the rights to autonomy and self-determination. 


International Indigenous People’s Day serves as a timely reminder of the significance of international trade on Indigenous Peoples. Their involvement in trade discussions needs to be meaningful and ongoing. Collaboration between governments, traders, and Indigenous Peoples is essential to ensure Indigenous Peoples rights are upheld, their cultural heritage is preserved, and their unique contributions to conserving biodiversity are celebrated. Let us strive to create a trade environment that respects Indigenous rights, promotes equity, and fosters a world where Indigenous Peoples can flourish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *