(As first reported by Reuters)
Landmark win for Indigenous rights sets a standard for other global insurers to follow
October 14, 2022 (Bermuda) – AXIS Capital recently became the first insurer in North America to adopt a policy stipulating that it will not underwrite new projects without Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of impacted Indigenous communities in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.. This sets a best practice globally for insurers’ policies on Indigenous rights.
AXIS’ new policy, which was published in the company’s Human Rights Policy, states: “We expect insureds to respect and observe the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (“FPIC”) in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and it is our policy to not provide insurance coverage on projects undertaken on indigenous territories without FPIC.”
“Insurance companies must stop underwriting fossil fuel projects that not only negatively impact our climate, but are in violation of the rights of Tribal Nations. We applaud AXIS for listening to tribal leaders who have been calling on the insurance industry to adopt due diligence policies around Free, Prior and Informed Consent, in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Matt Remle (Lakota), co-founder of Mazaska Talks. “For too long our treaty rights have been violated and these institutions have built, financed, and insured projects without proper consent.”
FPIC is a specific right that pertains to Indigenous Peoples and is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It ensures Indigenous Peoples’ participatory rights and their right to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories. Furthermore, FPIC enables them to negotiate the conditions under which the project will be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated.
In the U.S., no major insurers have public policies that pertain to Indigenous rights, and just two in Europe – Swiss Re and Allianz – reference FPIC in their human rights frameworks. Swiss Re’s policy states that it does not support business activities that negatively affect the rights of specific groups of people, citing FPIC, while Allianz requires that human rights-sensitive transactions are screened for FPIC.
Unlike Allianz or Swiss Re, AXIS Capital’s policy includes an elaboration of how it defines FPIC, with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“By expanding its human rights policy to screen for free, prior and informed consent, AXIS has taken a notable first step to align its business practice with the rights and welfare of Indigenous Peoples,” said Kate Finn, Executive Director of First Peoples Worldwide. “If properly executed, this policy will reveal risks that could materially affect a project’s success, and expose potential harms to Indigenous Peoples, their lands or their resources. In this regard, AXIS’ leadership demonstrates how the insurance industry should center the participation of Indigenous Peoples in any activity that impacts their communities and resources.”
AXIS’ policy follows years of pressure from Tribal communities, First Nations, Indigenous rights organizations, and environmental advocates pushing the insurance industry to adopt robust due diligence and verification mechanisms to ensure that underwriting clients fully respect and observe all human rights.
In November 2020, at their 77th annual convention, the National Congress of American Indians passed a sweeping resolution calling on the “U.S. insurance industry to adopt, as part of project and general insurance underwriting policies, a requirement to obtain and document the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of impacted Tribal Nations.” AXIS is the first insurer in the world to heed the resolution and adopt an FPIC screen.
“This is a major win for all of us who believe in self-determination. I appreciate the efforts of everyone at AXIS Capital and the National Congress of American Indians who played a part,” said Councilwoman Anna Bean of the Puyallup Tribal Council.
AXIS’ new policy follows on previous fossil fuel underwriting restrictions: in 2020, AXIS became the first North American insurer to restrict support for the tar sands oil sector. In 2021, it became the first North American insurer to rule out support for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It has also committed to not insure companies engaged in coal expansion and to phase out coal insurance fully, in line with a 1.5ºC pathway.
By contrast, major U.S. insurers like The Hartford, Liberty Mutual, and Travelers have refused to meet with Indigenous communities to discuss their support for, let alone rule out insuring, destructive energy projects that are being proposed and constructed without consent of impacted Indigenous communities, such as the Trans Mountain tar sands oil pipeline and oil and gas extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“This is a huge advancement for climate justice and human rights. With this policy, AXIS Capital is setting a global best practice for insurers’ policies on human rights, ensuring that it will not support fossil fuel projects that are being built without the consent of impacted Indigenous communities,” said Elana Sulakshana, Senior Energy Finance Campaigner at Rainforest Action Network. “The insurance industry should take note, as we will continue to pressure the companies that refuse to adopt policies on FPIC and continue supporting destructive, rights-violating dirty energy projects.”