Investor Engagement Yields Major Changes to Indigenous Rights at Canada’s Largest Bank

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Investor Engagement Yields Major Changes to Indigenous Rights at Canada’s Largest Bank

RBC makes changes following shareholder proposals from BCGEU and UBCIC

March 7, 2024

 (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil Waututh) | Vancouver, B.C.) In response to two successive shareholder resolutions filed by the B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), with support from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), the Royal Bank of Canada (TSX:RY) has launched a new component to its Environmental and Social Risk process, which asks questions about impacts on Indigenous lands and communities (I-ESR).

In addition, the bank has amended its human rights statement to invoke internationally recognized standards for Indigenous rights. Furthermore, RBC agreed to include a review of its new I-ESR policies in its racial equity audit to be completed in 2025.

“We are pleased to report that after over a year of negotiations, RBC has now charted a more meaningful course towards upholding Indigenous rights,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “After last year’s AGM debacle and ignoring the voices of proper title holders like the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, it is refreshing to see a change to RBC’s approach”.

A 2023 shareholder resolution, filed by BCGEU, a long-term RBC investor, with support from UBCIC, asked RBC to amend its human rights statement to invoke the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous people as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the UN Declaration) and to inform itself as to whether its clients had obtained FPIC. This proposal earned strong shareholder support. A 2024 proposal asked the bank to conduct a review of the effectiveness of the bank’s policies and practices in respecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights in its existing and proposed general corporate and project financing. This second proposal was withdrawn in light of RBC’s commitments as described in this press release.

Following negotiations conducted between RBC and the investors:

  • RBC amended its human rights statement to invoke the UN Declaration and the standard of FPIC;
  • RBC introduced a new, enhanced component to its environmental and social risk process that asks RBC clients about the impact of their activities on Indigenous lands and communities, which can trigger enhanced due diligence. It applies to capital markets transactions above a relatively low threshold. 
  • RBC agreed to undergo an independent third-party review of its policies related to Indigenous rights to be conducted by a qualified independent auditor as part of the bank’s Racial Equity Audit, which is to be completed by the end of 2025. The audit will specifically include a review of the company’s reliance on the Equator Principles for project finance activities.

“We are pleased to see RBC commit to enhanced risk management practices and to new reconciliation efforts in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action #92,” said BCGEU Treasurer Paul Finch. “As a long-term investor, we understand that protecting and enhancing investment is not at odds with Indigenous rights. In fact, quite the opposite.” 

Issues of concern that remain for BCGEU and UBCIC include RBC’s continued reliance on the Equator Principles, as well as concerns with whether the new I-ESR policies adequately ascertain harms to Indigenous lands and culture.

“It is too soon to say if RBC’s new policies rise to the challenge, and we will monitor their progress closely,” said Finch.

“RBC is not off the hook by any means. Policies are one thing but what matters is action. We will closely monitor RBC’s progress. Respecting FPIC is not an optional standard that only applies when consent is granted. It must also include the right to say ‘no’ and have that respected,” added Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. 

RBC’s April 2023 annual meeting of shareholders was marred with accusations of racism and segregation of Wet'suwet'en and Black frontline communities who had traveled to the meeting to speak with management.

RBC is the third Canadian chartered bank to agree to terms and commitments related to a shareholder proposal on FPIC filed by BCGEU and UBCIC, following commitments from both TD Bank and the Bank of Montreal in 2023. 

BCGEU and UBCIC will attend the 2024 AGM to be held in Etobicoke to address shareholders directly about this engagement.


For more information contact:

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs: (250) 490-5314
Emma Pullman, Head of Shareholder Engagement, B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) 
[email protected] (778) 887-6776

About BCGEU: The B.C. General Employees' Union represents over 85,000 workers in almost every community and economic sector in British Columbia. Under BCGEU's capital stewardship strategy, the union has submitted shareholder proposals at some of Canada's largest companies and has succeeded in achieving strong commitments on ESG issues.

About UBCIC: The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is a political advocacy organization that represents over 120 First Nations in British Columbia. The UBCIC works to uphold Indigenous sovereignty, promote self-determination, and advance Indigenous peoples' rights.

Download PDF
2023 shareholder proposal
2024 shareholder proposal
RBC’s proxy circular

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