Working in Solidarity with the Gwich’in Steering Committee

How we’re using our voice—and our shareholder proposal—to help support Indigenous Peoples’ rights and biodiversity in the Arctic

a majestic caribou on a hillside

At Domini, our two core goals are universal human dignity and ecological sustainability. They shape every aspect of our work—how we focus our impact research, how we build our investment portfolios, and how we engage with companies.

One issue in particular—the rights of Indigenous Peoples—sits at the intersection of our two goals. There are over 450 million Indigenous Peoples around the world. For many, their traditions and beliefs center around a deep respect for nature, especially that of the lands they’ve inhabited for centuries or millennia. Respecting their dignity—by helping protect their rights to self-determination and their culture—means caring for the ecological wellbeing of their sacred lands.

Recently, we’ve worked in solidarity with the Gwich’in people, supporting efforts to protect their culture, livelihood, and the land that has sustained them since time immemorial: the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The focus of our involvement has been dialogues with two major U.S.-based insurance companies, Chubb and The Hartford Financial.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge stretches for tens of thousands of square miles in northeastern Alaska. In 2021, the U.S. government auctioned land for oil and gas development on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. U.S. law mandates a second lease sale by the end of 2024.

Oil and gas development poses serious environmental, food security, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights threats. It would likely be detrimental to the migratory route of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which the Gwich’in people have depended on for subsistence for thousands of years. Caribou are vital for food, clothing, and tools, and are a source of cultural traditions. The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, an area that Gwich’in people call Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit—the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.

Progress at the company level

The U.S. Government’s decision to auction off Arctic Refuge lands is disappointing, but oil and gas development depends on many factors. Energy companies need to buy the leases. Banks need to finance the subsequent energy projects. And insurance companies must be willing to provide coverage to the companies involved.

That means advocates have several audiences, and progress can come in many different forms. Already, 18 international insurers and every major U.S. bank are in the process of creating—or have already adopted—policies to protect the Arctic Refuge. ExxonMobil recently announced it will not drill in the region.

This progress is a result of the work of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which has made enormous efforts to meet with financial institutions, insurance companies, and lawmakers to defend their land and way of life.

Timeline: working with Chubb

Chubb is a U.S.-based insurance company that has recently been in dialogue with Gwich’in leaders and impact investors on its role in curbing oil and gas development, especially in conservation areas. Engaging with Chubb has been a years-long process.

  • January 2019: The Gwich’in Steering Committee and allies wrote to Chubb asking the company to not insure SAExploration’s plans to conduct seismic testing for oil deposits in the Arctic Refuge.
  • November 2020: The Gwich’in Steering Committee began asking to meet with all major insurance companies to discuss the Arctic Refuge.
  • October 2022: Domini began its engagement with Chubb. We wrote a letter encouraging it to meet with the Gwich’in Steering Committee leaders and to understand their stance on insurance underwriting in the Arctic Refuge.
  • December 2022: Domini filed a shareholder proposal—to be voted on at Chubb’s 2023 annual general meeting—on Chubb’s underwriting process and its analysis of human rights risks, particularly those related Indigenous Peoples.
  • December 2022: The Gwich’in Steering Committee met with Chubb for the first time in late December, after more than three years of outreach to the company.
  • January 2023: Dialogue on Domini’s proposal started. Chubb challenged our proposal at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but we successfully overcame the no-action request.
  • March 2023: Chubb announced that it will no longer provide insurance coverage for oil and gas companies in conservation areas around the world, including the Arctic Refuge.
  • May 2023: Investors will have the opportunity to vote on our shareholder proposal.

In March, Chubb announced that it will no longer provide insurance coverage for oil and gas companies in sensitive conservation areas around the world, including the Arctic Refuge. It’s a key victory for the Gwich’in people, who have long emphasized that efforts to stop oil and gas development are essential to biodiversity in the region, especially for preserving the migratory route of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.

Chubb’s decision may also set the stage for further progress in the insurance industry. “Chubb’s policy is a first for the American insurance industry and shows leadership to protect sacred lands,” said Bernadette Demientieff, the Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “Companies cannot divide our people from this sacred place.”

Our shareholder proposal

The Gwich’in Steering Committee began asking to meet with Chubb in 2019. But when Chubb failed to respond for more than three years, we recognized an opportunity to use our leverage as shareholders to prompt action and work in solidarity with the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

We wrote to Chubb in October 2022, encouraging it to meet with the Gwich’in Steering Committee. In December, we submitted our shareholder resolution, which requests that Chubb’s board of directors publish a report describing how human rights risks and impacts are evaluated and incorporated into the company’s underwriting process. The proposal calls attention to the extent to which Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), as articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is considered by Chubb.

Chubb’s engagement with the Gwich’in Steering Committee presents a model that Chubb and other insurance companies can improve on to screen for underwriting risks regarding the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Other Indigenous communities have reached out to Chubb to meet and have not received a response. Adopting an Indigenous Peoples and FPIC policy presents business opportunities for Chubb to partner with Indigenous communities, tribes, tribal corporations, Native-owned businesses, and Native entrepreneurs.

We’re impressed with the progress we’ve seen so far, and we believe that the input laid out by our proposal would help Chubb better protect the rights and sacred lands of Indigenous Peoples—making this a formal policy across its business.