Woman in QMM community selecting raffia to make handicraft products

Community agreements

We are proud to be the first mining company in Australia to embrace Native Title to land and to form agreements with Traditional Owners. Today, agreements are central to the way we work and an important way communities drive their own development.

Updating agreements

Following the tragic destruction of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in May 2020, we are finding better ways to work with communities and Indigenous Peoples, particularly in how we protect heritage. We are moving to a model of co-management, working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples across our operations. Our approach aims to enhance our understanding and appreciation of Indigenous cultural heritage and ensure that Indigenous voices inform our planning and decision making.

Social, cultural and heritage management plans

In 2023, our Iron Ore business advanced 5 Social, Cultural, and Heritage Management Plans for proposed developments, with positive feedback by Traditional Owners. It is based on building understanding, co-designing, partnering, and transparently sharing information.

Remedy agreement with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation

In November 2022, we agreed with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation to create the Juukan Gorge Legacy Foundation as part of a remedy agreement relating to the destruction of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge. Financial support will be provided to the Traditional Owner-led foundation to progress major cultural and social projects, including a new keeping place for storing important cultural materials. The agreement forms part of our commitment to remedy and rebuild the relationship with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

Updated agreement with the Yindjibarndi people

In November 2022, we signed an updated agreement with Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation. The agreement aims to provide better social and economic outcomes for future generations and reflects our commitment to create opportunities for Yindjibarndi people to participate in our operations. The agreement also includes support for Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation to develop community, commercial and cultural projects and programs to fulfil its aspirations of self-determination.

In October 2023, we announced a memorandum of understanding with the Yindjibarndi Energy Corporation to explore opportunities to collaborate on renewable energy projects on Yindjibarndi Country in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Together, we will consider a range of opportunities, including wind and solar power and battery energy storage systems.

Working with Indigenous communities in Canada

We continue to work together with Indigenous groups in Canada to implement agreements.

We have 12 active long-term impact benefits/participation agreements. Our agreements include areas such as training and employment procurement, land and water management, joint environmental monitoring and community investment. We are also working in partnership with Indigenous communities to look at how we protect and preserve cultural heritage.

In February 2023, the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach and Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) signed an agreement to establish a mutually beneficial relationship based on dialogue, collaboration and trust. This socio-economic agreement aims to create opportunities for greater participation by Naskapi People in IOC’s activities through training and development, employment, collaboration on environmental projects, and procurement. It will also protect and encourage the practice of traditional activities and provide long-term financial benefits to the Naskapi Nation.

At our Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories, we are working with Indigenous partners to develop criteria for water quality to ensure that water is healthy and safe from a western science perspective and from a traditional cultural use perspective. This initiative values both western science and traditional knowledge and it will be evaluated equally by the Wek’èezh.i Land and Water Board and the regulator. It is part of a co-management regulatory regime to ensure future traditional use of the local land and water. In the northern part of British Columbia, we have announced a significant archaeological research project together with the Cheslatta Carrier Nation. The project will excavate sites of remarkable cultural and historical significance that could date back more than 10,000 years.

In the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region of Quebec, we announced the signing of an agreement with Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation in December 2022. This agreement – named Kuessilueu, which means “the wind is turning” in Nelueun – is the start of a collaborative process that will bring Pekuakamiulnuatsh and Rio Tinto representatives together in a co-designed approach to identify priorities and recommendations on governance, jobs and training, business opportunities, cultural heritage, environment, partnerships, and energy transition. The agreement will involve a large group of people and aims to create a movement, with each participant becoming an agent of change in their respective area. As part of this agreement, an Indigenous awareness program will be launched for our employees in the region.

We have many agreements with groups around the world. These community agreements are long-term, often with horizons beyond 50 years, and they help us establish relationships and run our business in a way that delivers mutual value.

Our agreements set the framework for how we engage with communities and Indigenous Peoples, often going beyond legal requirements and forming part of a long-term relationship that often spans decades. This framework also sets the value-sharing model for the financial and non-financial benefits communities receive for access to land, as well as the agreements for cultural heritage management and a range of other important actions.

What are community agreements?

Our community agreements are negotiated agreements with Indigenous Peoples, local communities and others. Not every mining or extractives company forms agreements, but we feel they are important in part because they demonstrate respect and commitment to inclusive engagement with communities and land-connected peoples.

These agreements, often the result of many years of engagement, document not only mutual obligations that are both enforceable and auditable, but also codify ‘the how’ – the behaviours expected from our employees and contractors. They help reduce potential effects of a project on communities and their environment. And they help make sure benefits are shared directly with those affected, and empower communities to make decisions about how those benefits are used.

Ultimately, agreements are a mechanism for accountability and provide companies and communities with mutual performance indicators that cover all stages; from exploration through to project planning and operations, including after closure.

Our agreements also provide beneficiary payments, deliver social and economic outcomes and engage with Indigenous groups in cultural heritage, employment, business development, and training and education activities. In Australia, for example, our land access agreements allow us to compensate, via trust funds and other mechanisms, Traditional Owners for the operations and presence we have on their land.

Leading agreement making in the mining industry

Our approach to engagement with Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders was fundamentally reshaped by key legal events in Australia with the High Court’s Mabo decision in 1992, and the introduction of Native Title legislation, which recognised Native Title to land in 1993. Under this law, the ‘right to negotiate’ provision facilitated a culture of agreement making in Australia.

We were proud to be the first mining company in Australia to embrace Native Title to land and to form agreements with Traditional Owners. Today, we have many such agreements globally.

In Canada, our first agreement was at the Diavik Diamond Mine, where, in 1999, we signed a Socio Economic Monitoring Agreement (SEMA) with the Northwest Territories government and 5 impacted Metis, First Nations and Inuit organisations. This was followed by the signing of individual Participation Agreements with each of the communities in 2000 and 2001.

The development of new assets, such as Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia, has also allowed us to explore agreement processes in a context that went beyond Indigenous groups to land-connected peoples more broadly.

What our agreements typically cover

  • Land access provisions and consent to certain activities
  • Financial benefits
  • Local employment and training opportunities
  • Economic development and business opportunities
  • Social, cultural and community support
  • Environmental co-management
  • Cultural heritage management, protection and protocols
  • Governance and procedural arrangements, including implementation provisions

Why Agreements Matter

Learn more about how and why we make agreements

Why Agreements Matter
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Sustainability reporting

We have a responsibility to extract the full value from the minerals and materials we produce in the safest and most sustainable way possible.

Agreement types

Our agreements can cover different aspects of our operations, be developed at different stages of the mining life cycle and are subject to different local and national laws. 

The form of agreement we reach depends on the needs and circumstances of the operation and local communities – including their socio-economic priorities – as well as the national and local legal context.

The most common agreements we form are:

  • Cultural heritage agreements
    Agreements between us and land-connected peoples explaining what steps will be taken to manage cultural heritage.
  • Land access (for exploration) agreements
    Agreements between us and a landholder outlining each party’s land access rights and responsibilities.
  • Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs) in Canada (also known as Participation Agreements)
    Agreements negotiated in the context of resource development that establish how affected Indigenous people will benefit from project development – including training and employment benefits, business opportunities, environmental monitoring, cultural heritage, among other things.
  • Indigenous partnership agreements
    Agreements made with Indigenous groups that cover broader socio-economic and social issues, and included opportunities for contracting, employment, training, business development, environmental protection and other items.
  • Minerals development agreements
    Agreements between us and governments detailing everyone’s roles and responsibilities in relation to minerals development projects – including the payment of royalties and taxes, and other obligations.

Some types of agreements are specific to particular jurisdictions. For details of various types of agreements and treaties in different jurisdictions – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa – visit the Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements website, a University of Melbourne initiative supported by the Australian Research Council and Rio Tinto.

Compensation and benefits

Mining projects and operations change the life, livelihoods and landscapes of people connected to the land involved. Through our agreements, we work closely with host communities to ensure they receive a fair share of benefits. A good benefit process accurately determines the rightful recipients and then provides benefits fairly, following terms the recipients themselves help develop.

And by providing benefits, like employment, training, and supporting regional economic development, we can provide lasting value and positive outcomes to the communities where we work. Another way we secure long-term benefits for communities is by creating future income streams, such as endowment funds, foundations and trusts. These are built to suit the specific needs of the local community, and can sometimes align with local and regional development plans too.

Financial payments – for the purposes of compensation, benefits or both – can take many forms. For example, payments may be made based on operational outcomes, such as a percentage of profit, or royalties linked to production.

For example, at our Weipa operations, in Queensland, Australia, we established the Western Cape Communities Coexistence Agreement Charitable Trust, with the majority of annual funding placed in long-term secure investments. And at our Kitimat aluminium smelter in British Columbia, Canada, we partnered with the Haisla Nation to buy and operate the Kitamaat Valley Education Society, which serves other local employers and helps build skills within the local community.

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