Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)
‘Free prior and informed consent’ (FPIC), is the principle that a community has the right to give or withhold its consent to proposed projects that may affect the lands they customarily own, occupy or otherwise use. FPIC, for years advanced by FPP, is now a key principle in international law and jurisprudence related to indigenous peoples.
What does FPIC mean to forest peoples?
FPIC implies informed, non-coercive negotiations between investors, companies or governments and indigenous peoples prior to the development and establishment of oil palm estates, timber plantations or other enterprises on their customary lands. This principle means that those who wish to use the customary lands belonging to indigenous communities must enter into negotiations with them. It is the communities who have the right to decide whether they will agree to the project or not once they have a full and accurate understanding of the implications of the project on them and their customary land. As most commonly interpreted, the right to FPIC is meant to allow for indigenous peoples to reach consensus and make decisions according to their customary systems of decision-making.
What are some of the obstacles to FPIC?
On the practical level of carrying out FPIC, it can be problematic identifying who should verify that the right to FPIC has been respected and how this should be done. Making free, prior and informed consent work: challenges and prospects for indigenous peoples (FPP, June 2007), identifies some experiences with third-party audits for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in Indonesia and suggests that verifiers have been unduly lenient about what constitutes adequate compliance, thereby weakening any leverage that communities may gain from companies’ obligations to respect their rights and priorities in accordance with FSC voluntary standards.
However, the publication also demonstrates that verification of FPIC procedures by government as in the Philippines has also proven problematic.
Another challenge for indigenous peoples in their efforts to exercise their right to FPIC is to ensure that their systems of decision-making are genuinely representative and made in ways that are inclusive of, and accountable to, members of their communities.
By insisting on their right to FPIC, forest peoples have been able to block plantations and dams planned for their lands and have been able to negotiate fairer deals with palm oil developers, loggers and local government land use planners.
Why is FPIC important for companies and government?
The right of FPIC is necessary to ensure a level playing field between communities and the government or companies and, where it results in negotiated agreements, provides companies with greater security and less risky investments. FPIC also implies careful and participatory impact assessments, project design and benefit-sharing agreements. FPIC has been widely accepted in the ‘corporate social responsibility’ policies of private companies working in sectors such as dam building, extractive industries, forestry, plantations, conservation, bio-prospecting and environmental impact assessment.