Sakhalin Energy is one of the few companies that seriously implements the principle of social responsibility. It was commended by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for supporting the indigenous peoples of Sakhalin. At the Indigenous Forum held in New York, the company was represented by Natalia Gonchar, head of the department of information support and work with the media. Elena Vapnichnaya talked to her.
NG: We support indigenous peoples because the territory of Sakhalin Island is unique from the natural and human points of view. We have representatives of many nations, but those that belong to the indigenous peoples of the north are four groups. Since corporate social responsibility certainly covers interaction with stakeholders and the vulnerable group of the population, and the indigenous peoples of the north, by all standards, belong to this group of the population, of course, the company interacts with the indigenous peoples, and here we really have a lot of “pioneer” only for Russia, but also for the world, initiatives. For example, this is a plan to promote the development of small indigenous peoples of the north of the Sakhalin Oblast, which has been implemented since 2006 in accordance with the principle of “free prior informed consent”, which is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the standard of activity of the International Finance Corporation. This was done for the first time in the world and even before the IFC adopted this standard in 2012, and we followed this principle in 2010. We are proud that Sakhalin is ahead of the rest, because it was a truly “pioneering” experience, and we are glad that companies are trying to follow this path.
Of course, we are also improving ourselves and we cannot ignore the initiatives that are taking place in the Russian Federation and in the world. We welcome the fact that the year 2019 is declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages. There are a lot of initiatives in the Russian Federation aimed at supporting the languages of indigenous minorities and not only Northerners.
EB: We know a lot of negative examples when companies lay gas pipelines and oil pipelines, completely ignoring the landscape in which people have lived for centuries. Why did you decide to lead yourself in such a socially responsible manner, and, please, provide some specific examples of this plan of assistance?
NG: First, corporate social responsibility is part of corporate philosophy. You cannot be responsible in one place, and in another you are irresponsible. If a company is socially responsible, it is responsible for everything. And this social responsibility covers literally every spectrum of the company's activities and begins long before, conditionally, the excavator takes the first land bucket, if we are talking about mining companies. That is, a risk assessment, including environmental and social, must occur first. After that, the company naturally develops the appropriate measures. Corporate social responsibility includes human rights as an integral part of this process, the preservation of the environment and biodiversity, product quality, control over the interaction with suppliers and contractors. This is all - the system that combines all the work of the company. Therefore, when in the region where you work, there is a vulnerable group of the population, for example, indigenous and small peoples of the north, a socially responsible company simply cannot but interact with them and not support.
If we are talking specifically about the assistance plan and what is the “pioneering” of this mechanism, then throughout the year the working group brings together not only the company's specialists, but also representatives of the Sakhalin Oblast government, representatives of indigenous ethnic groups and experts. Two rounds of consultations are held in all areas of traditional residence, when people's opinions are collected, then a large conference of delegates is held, and they vote for it. This is really such a "pioneer" mechanism, which by and large can be used by any company, any project, be it their desire.
Further, the implementation mechanism itself. The decision to finance projects is not taken by the company or the government, but by the representatives of the indigenous ethnic groups themselves. We have two areas: the social development fund and the program to support traditional activities. Each area brings together committees. On Sakhalin, there are seven areas where indigenous peoples live. From each area, one committee is elected to each committee, that is, seven people in one committee and seven in another. It is these people who consider the projects and decide whether to support them or not. In this and novelty - it is clear that we can intervene if, from our point of view, there are any violations, but we do this quite rarely, and our plan is philosophically different, it differs from everything that happened before it.
Saving a language is a great heartache not only for small nations, but also for people who work with them or work in the regions. This is really a terrible statistic when languages disappear. I, as a philologist by first education, know that when a language disappears, it is a matter of time when people disappear or lose their identity. History knows several examples when ethnic groups were preserved without language, but very few of them. Therefore, it is impossible to do much here, everyone has to do his bit to help save it. For example, the Uilta people who live only on Sakhalin, and according to the last census there are 295 people, there are very few native speakers, mostly people of the older generation. It becomes terrible that we understand that it will be conditional for a couple of decades, and the language may disappear. Therefore, firstly, you can document - scientific publications, dictionaries, fiction.
Secondly, it is, of course, the development of languages. It is difficult to talk about language development, especially when there are only a few speakers, but we had experience when we, together with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, translated the UN declarations into the indigenous languages of Sakhalin: the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The peoples themselves did, translated, a lot of neologisms were created, and any neologism or a new concept is a kind of impetus to some development of the language. For example, the Nivkh writer Vladimir Mikhailovich Sangi said a wonderful phrase: “Thanks to the translation of these declarations, the word“ freedom ”appeared in the Nivkh language. The Nivkh cannot be free, they have never been in serfdom, and since there is no notion of non-freedom, there is no need for a separate term for this.
Therefore, the development of languages is realized through neologisms, through translations of modern literature and, of course, through promotion, because we are well aware that if young people are not interested in speaking in order to keep the language in mind, heart and head, the language does not of the future. Whatever elders do, you need to attract young people. For example, we, for the first time last year, held a youth conference for children on Sakhalin, which was called “Native Speech”. There was a multistage mentoring system of the older generation and so on. They were supposed to translate part of the chapter of A.P. Chekhov's "Sakhalin Island" - the part of the book where he speaks about indigenous peoples - in his own language. Then they had to submit their report in their native language. It was insanely difficult, because some started from scratch, but it became so popular, it captured everyone, we looked and decided to do it annually. Because it is so valuable, and the role of each saved language cannot be overestimated; without them, our planet will simply become poorer.