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Decent work opportunities fall short for indigenous people

On the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – marked on August 9 - ILO News looks at employment and social justice prospects for those communities.

News | 07 August 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) – A lot remains to be done to promote access to decent work and social justice for the world’s 370 million indigenous people, according to Chief Wilton Littlechild, Chairperson of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Chief Littlechild, Cree community leader in Canada
Speaking to ILO News ahead of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, he acknowledged that there has been some progress in employment prospects and skills developments for indigenous people, especially in developed countries.

“However, a lot remains to be done to provide decent work opportunities and promote social justice as improvements in some developed countries often hide very difficult national and regional situations,” said Littlechild, a Cree community leader from Canada.

This situation makes many indigenous people – especially women and children - vulnerable to discrimination and therefore likely to end up in forced labour or child labour.

If recognized, protected, promoted and valued, indigenous communities skills and production systems can become real assets to their own development and national economies, as well as address global challenges such as rising unemployment and environmental issues.

Key figures on Indigenous Peoples

  • 370 million indigenous people living in more than 90 countries across the world, from the Arctic to the tropical forests.
  • Indigenous people constitute approximately 5% of the world population but up to 15% of those living in extreme poverty.
  • There are at least 5,000 indigenous groups in the world.
  • Over 4,000 indigenous languages have been registered, out of a total of 6,700 known languages.
  • About 50% of indigenous people live in cities.
“Promoting decent work among our communities is not an easy task, especially since indigenous people live in very different situations, sometimes in remote rural areas or, on the contrary, in big cities,” Littlechild said.

But he also stressed that better implementation of the ILO's Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, (No.169) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) “can make a real difference in promoting indigenous peoples rights and benefit everyone.”

Adopted in 1989, ILO Convention No. 169 is widely seen as a key legal tool to promote the rights of the 370 million indigenous people living in more than 90 countries. It is legally binding for the 22 countries that have ratified it, most of them in Latin America.

It states that indigenous peoples have the right to enjoy the full measure of human rights and fundamental freedoms without hindrance or discrimination. Among other rights, it specifically mentions “admission to employment” and equal pay for equal work.

UNDRIP, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, is not a legally binding under international law but it can help set legal norms.

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