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The French fashion company Christian Dior has reached a confidential agreement with New Caledonia's Indigenous Kanak people, after it came under fire for patenting native plant extracts for its cosmetics research.
The international brand patented six extracts from plants native to the French Pacific territory in the 90s, and the territory's Customary Senate — a body comprising New Caledonia's tribal chiefs — attempted to receive compensation last year.
Indigenous leaders had argued their traditional knowledge of the territory's plants was being used for Dior's commercial benefit.
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This week, Kanak chiefs on the island signed a joint statement with Dior recognising the importance of their knowledge.
However, full details of the agreement — including any compensation or other financial arrangements — have not been made public.
So what did Dior do?
Dior is known for its high-end designs, luxury perfumes and top-end make up.
In the 90s, the company's search for new products led them to the forests of New Caledonia and they patented the extracts in 1998.
Collaborating with scientists from the country's Institute of Research and Development, Dior patented six extracts from native plants that had long been used as medicine by the Kanak people.
Cyprien Kawa, a tribal chief and a member of New Caledonia's Customary Senate, told the ABC he didn't know the name of the plants but understood the plants were used by the tribes as a form of traditional medicine to heal various diseases.
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The ABC understands Dior never used the plant extracts in their products and the patents have since expired.
The Customary Senate started negotiations with Dior about two years ago; the chiefs wanted more information about the patents and then sought compensation for what they said was the use of "Kanak science, technology and culture".
What's the outcome?
The Customary State and Dior reached a confidential agreement on the matter last week.
In a joint statement released by the Senate and the CEO of Parfums Christian Dior — the cosmetics line of the fashion company — Dior said it "reaffirms its support of Kanak communities" for their "traditional knowledge".
It was an acknowledgement the Customary Senate said it was "honoured" to hear, and Mr Kawa agreed.
"We have engaged in serious discussions so that everyone can share their account of what took place, and notably this sort of thing can never happen again on Kanak territory of New Caledonia," he said.
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Thomas Burelli, a scholar in environmental law from the University of Ottawa, discovered the history of the Dior patents during his research on patents involving Indigenous communities.
He brought his discovery to the attention of Kanak leaders four years ago and became a consultant on the case.
Though details of the agreement remain under wraps, he said he was also pleased with the outcome.
"The result is a big success," he told the ABC.
"[The agreement] is something I have never seen in France, and I'm quite happy from what I have seen [from the negotiations] during the past four years."
Has anything like this happened before?
Mr Burelli said the case with Dior was not unique as he had found many examples of private companies using Indigenous knowledge in their research for new products.
"Indigenous communities have shared their knowledge, for the good of humanity," he said.
"When you see it for commercial use, or you see people trying to benefit from it without sharing anything, you have a moral issue."
Mr Kawa said the case revealed the enduring impact of colonisation on Indigenous people, and the outcome underlined the value of his people's culture in international research.
"The colonisation of our land involved the looting of our natural resources, and that included our traditional medicine," he said.
He added that with international and domestic conventions now protecting Indigenous culture, it was now much harder for companies to exploit their knowledge.
"Things are no longer done like that today," Mr Kawa said.
The ABC approached Christina Dior for comment, but they did not respond by publication time.
Christian Dior reaches secret agreement with New Caledonia over patenting native plants .
The French fashion company Christian Dior reaches a confidential agreement with New Caledonia's Indigenous Kanak people, after it came under fire for using native plants in its cosmetics research.The international brand patented six extracts from plants native to the French Pacific territory in the 90s, and the territory's Customary Senate — a body comprising New Caledonia's tribal chiefs — attempted to receive compensation last year.