The cornerstone of Brendan's idea is the democratization of access to Environmental Impact Assessment studies, which must be submitted to the government by firms interested in infrastructure or extraction projects in Peru. Brendan has not only convinced companies to release these Assessments for review by the public, but has also developed a method for training indigenous community leaders and other citizens to submit comments about how proposed projects would impact their natural resources and their communities as a whole. He has persuaded the Peruvian government to consider the indigenous communities' comments when weighing the merits of a given project. Through Brendan's assistance, indigenous peoples are empowered to design and manage their own sustainable development strategies and to defend their environmental, cultural, and territorial rights.
Though indigenous peoples have received aid from various entities, it has not yet secured for them ownership of their own development projects, nor the achievement of many of their objectives. Their lack of knowledge and capacity to assess the environmental and cultural impacts of oil company activities limits their ability to exercise effective self-determination. Under Peruvian law, companies are required to carry out Environmental Impact Assessment studies, which must be approved in order for their activities to continue, though plans for compensation remain underdeveloped and underutilized. In addition, indigenous peoples have rarely joined in environmental assessments, which are designed by oil companies, without public participation. On this point, nobody has been willing or able to bridge the communication gap between multinational companies, the government, and indigenous groups.
Companies are not legally obliged to publicize their Assessments until the day of the meeting with indigenous leaders, but Brendan is working to make early distribution of Assessments a requirement so that there is time for affected populations to review them. He also seeks to ensure more effective participation of indigenous peoples in Assessment processes by convincing companies to enter into a meaningful dialogue respectful of their rights. In order to promote this dialogue, Brendan provides legal and technical support so that negotiations and agreements are based on full and informed community consent, understanding of the relevant law, awareness of potential social and environmental impacts, and appreciation of the true social costs and market value of the goods or services to be produced. He supports indigenous leaders who enter into commercial agreements with model contracts and marketing strategies.
Brendan´s training focuses on the two areas of commercial interest which are important to indigenous peoples and have the attention of national authorities: oil and genetic resource trades. He is distributing summaries of the most important issues in Environmental Impact Assessments submitted by the oil industry, using scientists in Peru and abroad to study their scope and mitigation procedures. He also works with oil companies to secure more effective participation by indigenous groups in the development of Assessments. Assistance will be given to the Peruvian Environmental Network to define and monitor companies' activities, as well as to promote an environmental defense fund in order to ensure that companies comply with their Assessment obligations or risk prosecution.
Brendan also seeks to protect legal rights to indigenous collective knowledge. Part of his strategy involves pressuring government authorities to ensure their compliance with the Convention on Biological Diversity, writing proposals to change the law which governs the protection of genetic resources, and participating in international working groups to ensure that informed consent becomes a condition for the use of indigenous knowledge. Indigenous groups count on his assistance through legal advice in the negotiation of genetic resource contracts, capacity-building workshops, and information about the genetic resource trade and mechanisms for their protection.
His work has already produced important results. Working as a legal adviser to the Aguaruna people of the northern region of the Amazon, Brendan obtained a commercial licensing agreement with a pharmaceutical firm, Searle and Company, the first time a contract was used to protect indigenous rights. He explained intellectual property rights to the Aguaruna, and they decided for themselves how to use the information he gave them. As a result, the Aguaruna will enter into a direct commercial agreement with the company and will receive annual payments and royalties. Not only does this agreement benefit the Aguaruna, but it also sets a precedent for the future treatment of indigenous intellectual property rights around the world. Brendan has also assisted indigenous peoples of the Lower Urubamba region in opening meaningful debate and consultation with Shell and its proposed development of the Camisea gas field, the largest in Latin America. Shell agreed to pay for capacity-building for indigenous communities and released copies of its environmental assessment studies to indigenous groups prior to state approval, the first time this has happened in Peru. Indigenous people were thus able to comment on the development plans of an extraction company before a public audience. The Ministry of Energy and Mines has, as a result, extended public participation rights in Environmental Impact Assessment approval procedures.
In 1991, while working for a major computer firm in England, Brendan began to focus on environmental law and impacts, attempting to convince his firm to take a strong position on the environment at the Rio Summit. He resigned when the firm didn't agree with his position and used his savings to study more about environmental law and human rights. With his Peruvian wife, he emigrated to Peru, where he spent the next nine months studying and writing on issues he saw as fundamental to the sustainable development debate, including international environmental law and the right to food, design of a global model for environmental impact assessments, and state responsibility for trans-boundary environmental damage.
Brendan dedicates himself to the economic and social rights of Amazonian communities. He has left behind a career as a lawyer for international corporations to go to Peru and work in defense of sustainable development and indigenous groups. His vision remains pragmatic, in that he accepts the presence of multinationals and assists indigenous communities to negotiate and coexist with them under more favorable economic and legal terms.
Since his election to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997, Brendan Tobin has worked with indigenous peoples to help them understand the value of their legal regimes and their role as lawmakers. Brendan’s main goal is to create universal acceptance of indigenous peoples’ self-determination when it comes to their traditions and culture. and further, to expand that into acceptance of customary law within the international legal framework. Brendan is empowering indigenous peoples to establish biocultural protocols on how outsiders must relate to them and protect their human rights. Brendan founded the Asociacion Para la Defensa de los Derechos Naturales, which provides environmental and human rights advice to indigenous cultures. He works in three main thematic areas: promoting indigenous peoples’ rights to genetic and natural resourses; protection of indigenous knowledge, communities, and peoples; and the recognition of indigenous peoples’ customary law regimes and human rights in the international legal framework. His original project was to promote a change in the system of property rights utilizing Certificates of Origin, or requirements for the disclosure of origin in applications for international property rights. This innovative notion of using a market instrument as a mechanism for the protection of human rights was enacted in Peru in 1996 and is now law in 18 countries. It was also adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 via the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization. Brendan works with many international organizations, research groups, NGOs and indigenous groups on issues related to intellectual property, human rights, and natural resource rights. From 2003 to 2006, he coordinated the Biodiplomacy Initiative at the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Study, working on issues of biodiversity, traditional knowledge, bioethics, and intellectual property rights.