The International Labour Organisation is a specialised UN agency that aims to improve living and working conditions. ILO Convention 169, concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, entered into force in 1991.
It calls on governments to develop systematic actions to protect the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, including their social, economic and cultural rights, customs, traditions and institutions.
It emphasises the right of indigenous and tribal peoples to decide their own priorities for development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being. And it calls for due regard for customary laws of the peoples concerned; and for their participation in decisions that affect them.
ILO 169 also recognises the need to respect the special importance of peoples relationship with their lands and territories, in particular the collective aspects of this relationship, for their cultural and spiritual values.
The Convention provides a key instrument for protecting indigenous peoples’ rights as it is legally binding. However, it does not specifically address the protection of traditional knowledge, and it has only been ratified by 20 countries. These are largely Latin American and European countries, but also include the Central African Republic, Nepal and Fiji.