Communities and regional development

Good community relations are as necessary for our business success as the effective management of our operations. This belief is at the heart of our overall approach to our work with communities and is why we strive to build good quality relationships with the people in the areas where we operate.

It is essential that we understand the social, environmental and economic implications of our activities so we can optimise benefits and reduce negative impacts, both for local communities and for regional and national economies. We accept that we cannot meet everybody’s concerns and expectations, but wherever we operate, we seek to do so with broad-based community support.

In 2014, Rio Tinto contributed to just under 2,200 socio-economic programmes across the globe, making community contributions of US$261 million worldwide. These programmes covered a wide range of activities including health, education, environmental protection, housing, and agricultural and business development.

We work from a common Communities and Social Performance framework of building knowledge, engaging with communities and developing programmes. Work on the ground varies according to the local context. However, some common themes are:

Regional economic development

We are committed to acting as a catalyst for inclusive regional economic planning, public-private investment and broad-based economic growth.

We believe that well-planned and well-managed regional economic development programmes can leverage mining investment. They can help deliver positive outcomes in terms of employability and employment, participation of local and regional businesses in mining and complementary industries, and opportunities for real social and economic gains at the local, regional and national level.

Long-term partnerships founded in trust and transparency are key to unlocking this potential. To achieve the outcomes that we, and our stakeholders, want to see, we partner with our host nations, and with those who work in managing regional impacts and opportunities.

Local and Indigenous employment

We're committed to providing employment and career development opportunities to local communities. This mutually beneficial arrangement not only contributes to local economic growth, it also provides a stable talent-pool for our operations. In 2014, we remained one of the largest private sector employers of Indigenous Australians, who represented approximately 7.5 per cent of our permanent Australian workforce.

Gender in communities

Women in communities often disproportionately bear the burden of change brought about by mining and other developments. We recognise how important it is to understand the social dynamics of relationships between men and women, and developed a comprehensive gender guide, Why gender matters, to help our people better manage the gender considerations of communities work.

Cultural heritage

We recognise and respect the cultural heritage of all communities in which we operate, particularly that of Indigenous Traditional Owners who have customary connections to land.

We consult closely with local people to ensure the protection of their cultural heritage sites and values. We have developed a comprehensive guide – Why cultural heritage matters – to help our managers, employees and contractors understand why we value cultural heritage in our operations and how to manage it effectively as part of their engagement with communities.

Human rights and communities

In 2011, the UN published its Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This is now the global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity. The Guiding Principles are based on shared responsibility between nation states’ “duty to protect” and a corporate “responsibility to respect”. To support this initiative and help our own people understand their responsibility, in 2013 we produced Why human rights matter, a resource guide for integrating human rights into communities and social performance work.

Community agreement making

We seek to reach agreements, where appropriate, with land-connected host communities, to gain access for exploration (land access agreements) and to develop mining operations (mine and regional development agreements). Most, but not all, of our community agreements are with local Indigenous communities. Recognition and respect of mutual interests underpin our agreement making.

Agreements arising from this process are evidence of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) as defined in the IFC Performance Standard 7, although we prefer to secure what we call broad-based, free, prior, and informed support.

Resettlement and compensation

We understand that the resettlement and economic displacement of people and communities can have significant impacts. Well-planned and well-executed resettlement and compensation can contribute to positive long-term relationships between Rio Tinto and our host communities.

We explore all viable alternative project designs in order to minimise the need to resettle individuals and communities. Only where it is unavoidable do we resettle people or displace existing economic activity.

We do not view resettlement as a short-term relocation activity: our goal is to improve the livelihoods of those resettled and their future generations over the long term. Our intention is that resettled people will be better off over time as a result of resettlement – according to their own assessment and external expert review.

Maintaining and rebuilding social capital (the economic value derived from being in a social group) is an important aspect of resettlement planning and implementation. We recognise the importance of social and family networks, and the cultural and religious fabric of societies. We carry out early and ongoing consultation with those affected, and provide opportunities for the community to participate in planning and implementing resettlement programmes

Find out more about our work with local communities in our 2014 Sustainable development report.