69th Session of the UN General Assembly

ILO Director-General's statement to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples Rights

Statement | 23 September 2014
The ILO is honoured to take part in this first historic World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Twenty-five years ago, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169) was adopted, placing a particular responsibility on the ILO, both in terms of providing technical assistance as well as regularly monitoring compliance.

However, Convention No. 169 does not belong only to the ILO – today, along with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Convention is a pillar of the international framework for indigenous peoples’ rights, and as such it is owned by the international community as a whole. We welcome the call by the World Conference for further ratifications of Convention No. 169, and stand ready to assist in this regard.

Making progress in implementing indigenous peoples’ rights at the national level will to a large extent depend on whether effective mechanisms for consultation and participation of indigenous peoples are in place. While considerable advances have been made in this regard, much work still remains to be done.

It is also clear that political empowerment goes hand in hand with economic and social empowerment. This is well reflected in the outcome document of the World Conference on indigenous peoples.

Indigenous women and men participate in the labour force, most often as self-employed and in low productivity activities. They are increasingly seeking wage employment outside their communities, and are migrating from rural to urban areas and across borders in search of work. Indigenous workers are employed in economic sectors such as agriculture, domestic work and construction, where pay is low and labour law coverage and compliance is often weak. Working often in casual jobs or in the informal economy makes them vulnerable to rights violations, income and employment insecurity and a lack of social protection. As a result, indigenous women and men and their communities risk remaining trapped in a cycle of poverty, discrimination and exploitation.

However, this does not have to be the case. There is an unrealized potential here: indigenous peoples’ occupations, skills and knowledge are assets that can provide a basis for the creation of enterprises and cooperatives of indigenous women and men. Indigenous communities are increasingly combining traditional livelihood strategies with new economic activities. Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to improve their economic and social conditions, including through vocational training and access to decent work and social protection.

The ILO’s tripartite constituents play an important role in the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, including their right to consultation and participation. Just a few days ago, the workers’ movement in Latin America and indigenous peoples adopted a road map for the further strengthening of their alliances.

Policy dialogues are more and more bringing together governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations and indigenous peoples to discuss the application of Convention No. 169.

The ILO looks forward to working with UN partners and indigenous peoples to develop a system-wide action plan as called for by the outcome document, building on the experiences of the UN Indigenous Peoples’ Partnership and to support national efforts to make indigenous peoples’ rights a reality.