Responsible value chain
As consumers become more mindful of the sustainability of the products they choose, they want reassurance that the materials consumed reflect responsible practices throughout the value chain.
Materials used in products today may not be the preferred choice in the future if they cannot establish their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials or develop strong circular solutions. This starts with transparency and includes our suppliers, operations, and customers.
We are part of a huge ecosystem that includes 20,000 suppliers and 2,000 customers across multiple industries and countries. More than 230 marine vessels transport our products. We are improving our knowledge of suppliers through enhanced due diligence and ongoing monitoring.
Our Supplier Code of Conduct lays out our expectations on human and labour rights, safety and environment, and our global supply contract outlines our expectations for how our suppliers should manage modern slavery risks.
In our operations, we are providing our customers with assurance that our value chain is responsible through independent industry stewardship programmes. Our Kennecott and Oyu Tolgoi copper operations have been awarded the Copper Mark, the copper industry’s independently assessed responsible production programme.
Our Kennecott operation has also been awarded the Molybdenum Mark, an independent certification that the molybdenum from our site is responsibly produced with high environmental, social and governance standards. As a by-product from copper mines, molybdenum has a critical role to play in the green transition as a vital material in clean energy technologies and sustainable construction practices in many areas. This certification demonstrates our continued commitment and leadership to sustainability, to be a responsible producer that is committed to finding better ways to provide the materials the world needs.
In 2021, our ISAL smelter in Iceland was certified under the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative, joining other aluminium assets in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Our three Canadian mines – Diavik, Iron Ore Company of Canada and RTIT Quebec Operations are assured under the Towards Sustainable Mining programme.
We also have a product stewardship strategy and programmes that guide our approach to managing regulatory and sustainability risks and opportunities in delivering our product to market. Our programmes address the regulatory requirements of both our host countries and end markets, as well as those that apply during transport.
In 2019 we partnered with China’s largest steel producer, China Baowu Steel Group, and Tsinghua University, one of China’s most prestigious and influential universities, to work on a joint action plan to explore ways to improve environmental performance across the steel value chain. In 2020, we progressed this partnership with the signing of a memorandum of understanding to support a $10 million investment in collaborative projects over the next two years.
In the same year, we also strengthened our separate partnership with Tsinghua University, with a commitment to invest $4.5 million over the next five years to support research projects at the Tsinghua-Rio Tinto Joint Research Centre for Resources, Energy and Sustainable Development. The partnership will continue to focus on sustainability issues, in particular those that support our 2050 net zero emissions target and the collaborative work we are doing as part of our partnership with Tsinghua University and China Baowu Steel.
In 2020, we also signed a pioneering climate partnership memorandum of understanding with Nippon Steel Corporation, Japan’s largest steel producer, to jointly explore, develop and demonstrate technologies to transition to a low-carbon emission steel value chain.
In 2022, we signed MoUs with both Shougang Group and Salzgitter Flachstahl to develop low-carbon solutions for the steel value chain.
We have also successfully proven the effectiveness of BioIronTM, a low-carbon iron-making process using raw sustainable biomass and microwaves.
Our copper operations at Kennecott in the US and the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia became the first producers to be awarded the Copper Mark, the copper industry’s first and only independently assessed responsible production programme. To achieve the Copper Mark – developed according to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – our Kennecott and Oyu Tolgoi copper were assessed against 32 criteria covering environment, community, business and human rights, labour and working conditions and governance. This means that our customers can be assured that our copper meets the highest environmental and social standards – including a transparent and responsible supply chain.
The Copper Mark was originally developed by the International Copper Association with input from a broad range of stakeholders including customers, NGOs and producers, and it is now an independent entity with a multi-stakeholder council.
We worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), other aluminium producers, users and stakeholders to launch the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative in 2012, with a commitment to maximise the contribution of aluminium to the development of a sustainable society. The ASI has established an independent, third-party verification of the sustainability of the value chain, including environmental, social and governance principles and criteria. In 2018, we became the first company to be certified under the ASI and, in 2019, we received further ASI certifications for our BC Works and Kemano sites in Canada, our Amrun and Weipa bauxite mines, Yarwun alumina refinery, and our Bell Bay and NZAS smelters in Australia and New Zealand. In 2021, our ISAL smelter in Iceland was certified under the ASI.
In 2018 we launched the ELYSIS partnership with Alcoa, with support from Apple and the governments of Canada and Quebec, to develop carbon-free aluminium smelting technology. We have made good progress and are now focused on accelerating the scale-up of the ELYSISTM technology towards larger, commercial-sized cells in 2023. If successful, this technology could revolutionise the industry and in Canada alone could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 7 million tons – the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
In a first for the canned beverage industry, in 2020 we partnered with Anheuser-Busch InBev – the world’s largest brewer – to work with supply chain partners to deliver a new low-carbon aluminium can that meets industry-leading sustainability standards.
In 2021, we launched STARTTM, the first sustainability label for responsible aluminium, delivered to customers using blockchain technology. This ‘nutrition label’ for aluminium provides key transparent and traceable information about the sustainable nature of our aluminium products, covering ten criteria: carbon footprint, water management, renewable energy, recycled content, waste management, safety performance, contribution to communities, supplier due diligence, governance systems and diversity. The blockchain technology will enable traceability, helping customers and consumers make informed choices about the products they buy. In 2022, START provided over 110 customers with 14 key ESG metrics.
And in 2022, we also strengthened our low-carbon product offering, with both Apple and Corona Canada using aluminium produced by ELYSIS emissions-free smelting technology in their products – the iPhone SE and Canada’s first specially marked, low-carbon aluminium cans.
Jewellery with integrity
Over the past 30 years we have helped drive reform in the jewellery industry, not only building the integrity of our own mining practices, but also supporting those we work with to do the same. As a founding member of the Responsible Jewellery Council, we support responsible and ethical social and environmental practices throughout the jewellery supply chain. Rio Tinto diamonds are produced sustainably, managed carefully and responsibly, and traceable, as is our high purity gold and silver that is produced at Kennecott in Utah, United States.
Knowing our third parties
Our Supplier Code of Conduct sets out our expectations of suppliers and their subsidiaries and subcontractors with respect to key issues, including human rights. It also makes clear that we may choose not to work with suppliers who do not meet our expectations.
Our Know your Third Party procedure clearly articulates the due-diligence requirements for all types of third parties. It helps identify the potential risks of engaging, renewing or extending a relationship with a third party, whether these risks relate to potential human rights issues such as modern slavery, bribery and corruption, money laundering, fraud and other financial crimes, trade sanctions or denied party transactions. We perform system-based monitoring on relevant suppliers centrally and where applicable, we keep a close eye on enforcement actions, sanctions-related alerts and significant changes in counterparty data.
We also look for ways to proactively speak with our suppliers and customers about sustainability issues. One of the ways we do this is by participating in whole of value chain initiatives – like the ASI, or the First Movers Coalition, a global initiative we joined in 2022 to help commercialise zero-carbon technologies. We also support beneficial ownership disclosure and strive to provide ownership information relating to our joint ventures in line with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Standard and expectations.
Leading all facets of the diamond industry
Our diamonds are not just rare and beautiful – they have an honourable pedigree. We want our customers to be confident that the journey their diamond makes from the mine to the market is a worthy one: that landscapes and cultures are treated respectfully, local communities prosper; safe and fair working conditions are provided and that we deal transparently with our industry partners.
We’ve partnered with leading international organisations to ensure the integrity and reliability of the wider diamond industry too. We were a founding member and the first mining company to be certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council, which promotes responsible, ethical, social and environmental practices throughout the diamond, gold and platinum jewellery supply chain.
And we’ve taken an active leadership role in the World Diamond Council, which represents the diamond industry in the Kimberley Process and has established a mechanism for guaranteeing to consumers that diamonds are conflict free.
We were also a founding member of the Natural Diamond Council, the first organisation to represent diamond producers at an international level. The Natural Diamond Council supports the development of the diamond sector and works to maintain and improve consumer confidence in diamonds.
Progress in 2022
Year in review
We progressed a number of activities to reduce our impacts across our value chain.
In our mission to find better ways to provide the materials the world needs, we partner with customers to work towards our shared goal of enabling the world’s transition to a low-carbon future. In 2022, some initiatives included:
- Signing a separate memorandum of understanding (MoU) with both the Ford Motor Company and Volvo Group, each of which leverages our advantage as a one-stop multi-commodity supplier for sustainable products and solutions in the low-carbon transition. Ford will also explore becoming the foundational customer for our Rincon Lithium Project in Argentina to support its production of electric vehicles.
- Strengthening our low-carbon product offering with aluminium produced by ELYSISTM emissions-free smelting technology, used by Apple (in their iPhone SE), and Corona Canada (in Canada’s first specially marked, low-carbon aluminium cans).
- Leveraging STARTTM, our blockchain technology, to provide over 110 customers with 14 key ESG metrics. Via a QR code, consumers can see how products were made from the mine to their hands and make more informed choices on what they buy.
- Signing a separate MoU with both Shougang Group and Salzgitter Flachstahl, and continuing significant partnerships with Nippon Steel Corporation, BlueScope, and Baowu to develop low-carbon solutions for the steel value chain. We have also successfully proven the effectiveness of BioIronTM, a low-carbon iron-making process using raw sustainable biomass and microwaves.
In the areas where we operate, we work hard to partner with and develop local businesses so they can share in our success. In 2022, we increased our spend with Indigenous suppliers in Australia by 40% from 2021 to A$565 million.
We also actively seek partnerships with our suppliers to reduce our own emissions.
In 2022, we have:
- Continued our partnership with Scania to develop more agile autonomous haul trucks. In April 2022, we launched new trials on Scania’s 40-tonne-payload autonomous mining trucks and quickly reached a key milestone of driverless operation in a simulated load and haul cycle environment. These trucks will require less energy and have a smaller infrastructure footprint.
- Signed an MoU with Volvo Group to work towards decarbonising our operations through piloting Volvo’s sustainable autonomous hauling solutions.
- Joined the First Movers Coalition, a global initiative to help commercialise zero-carbon technologies by harnessing purchasing power and supply chains.
Performance at non-operated assets and joint ventures
We strive to ensure that our joint venture partners align with our core values and sustainability policies. Our approach is governed by our Joint Venture Policy, which requires us and business partners to work together towards improvements when they are required.
Doing right by the planet has always been a big part of Stéphane’s life. Growing up, he was taught to never let anything go to waste. Recycling and composting became second nature to him, and got him thinking, “if waste isn’t acceptable at home, why is it acceptable at work?”
Now, Stéphane brings his passion for sustainability to his role as a leader at our operations in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, QC, Canada. Alongside his team, he’s focused on finding ways to reduce industrial waste production or convert them into new uses, leading to breakthroughs like Alextra—a new product made from potlining waste that can be used to make cement with our partners Lafarge Canada and Geocycle Canada—and anhydrite valorisation, creating a fertiliser for local blueberry production.
Thanks to Stéphane and his team, the adage “waste not, want not” is coming to life. Just one way we’re creating some of the most responsible aluminium in the world, keeping sustainability at the heart of all we do.