Indigenous and tribal peoples

Mhong hill tribe working woman in Thailand. © Shutterstock
About 260 million indigenous and tribal people live in Asia and the Pacific - 70 percent of the global total of 370 million.

But, as in other parts of the world, indigenous peoples are among the poorest of the poor in almost every country. Globally, while they account for five per cent of the population, they make up more than 15 per cent of the poor.

Most indigenous and tribal peoples live in rural areas. They often lack control over land and resources and face discrimination and poverty. As well as low incomes they have limited access to basic education, health care and other services. While they have their own ways of life, traditions and customary laws, a lack of respect for their cultures has, throughout history, brought social conflict and bloodshed.

The ILO has been working with indigenous and tribal peoples since the 1920s. It is responsible for the only international instrument currently in force that deals exclusively with their rights; the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169). This convention covers a wide range of issues including land rights, access to natural resources, health, education, vocational training, conditions of employment and cross-border contacts.

ILO work in this area falls into two main categories: the adoption and supervision of standards, and assistance to indigenous and tribal peoples and the country’s they live in.