Most indigenous and tribal peoples face high levels of discrimination and poverty, whether they are pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, forest dwellers, peasants, workers in the informal economy or formally employed. Indigenous women face additional gender-based marginalisation and discrimination.

The elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation and the principle of equal treatment and equal opportunity are fundamental concerns of the ILO.

Therefore, the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) has been identified as one of the eight fundamental ILO Conventions that all ILO Members must respect, promote and realize. As of April 2008, the Convention had been ratified by 166 countries. The Convention is accompanied by the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Recommendation, 1958 (No. 111). Both instruments provide an important entry point for addressing indigenous issues.

Convention No. 111 protects all workers, including indigenous workers, against discrimination. The grounds for discrimination that are listed in the Convention such as race, colour and national extraction also cover discrimination based on ethnicity or on belonging to an indigenous people. The Convention aims to eliminate discrimination and lack of equal opportunities in accessing work and employment experienced by indigenous workers due to the very fact that they belong to an indigenous people. The Convention also covers discrimination of indigenous peoples’ traditional occupations, such as pastoralism, shifting cultivation, hunting and gathering which are under pressure in many countries.

Convention No. 111 is applicable to – and very relevant for – indigenous workers but is not well-known among indigenous and tribal peoples’ organizations. Therefore, the ILO has published a Eliminating discrimination against indigenous and tribal peoples in employment and occupation - A Guide to ILO Convention No.111 for indigenous and tribal peoples.