We have had some difficult conversations, both within our business and with stakeholders, about our actions, performance and culture. This feedback has helped shape a new direction for our leadership team and our business as a whole.
We are looking to the future and our role in tackling climate change, as well as the opportunities doing so might bring. The world is not doing enough to reduce carbon emissions and curtail the impact of climate change. Our business strategy, released in October 2021, has sustainability at its core. It sets a new direction for Rio Tinto, and an accelerated timeframe for us to deliver significant reductions in emissions from our operations, and our value chain.
In 2021, we also set a goal to achieve impeccable environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials, in line with societal expectations. We know that responsibly managing our business impacts is fundamental if we want to continue to grow and deliver on our strategy. We can only achieve this in a culture of care, courage and curiosity – our new values.
We faced some confronting truths about our culture this year as we worked to better understand people’s experiences of bullying, sexual harassment, racism and other forms of discrimination in the workplace through a comprehensive, independent review of our culture. Following the feedback from more than 10,000 of our people, we have set out a plan of action to improve how we prevent and respond to harmful behaviours in the workplace. This will, over time, contribute to a more safe, respectful and inclusive work environment. We know we have lots of work to do but we are optimistic about our future.
Our people demonstrated enormous resilience and commitment as we navigated the second year of the global pandemic, which for many presented even greater challenges than 2020. We continued to work closely with our employees and contractors, communities and governments to protect people’s health and safety and facilitate access to vaccinations.
In 2021, we boosted our in-house expertise and capability across several disciplines, including communities, cultural heritage, social performance and environment, to support our operations. We also reviewed many of our organisational structures, standards and processes to ensure we have the right systems in place to effectively manage our impacts.
Reporting what matters
We complete a sustainability materiality assessment every year to ensure we understand what issues matter to our stakeholders and our business. We expanded our approach in 2021# to gather information from external stakeholders and a cross-section of employees via interviews, surveys and reviews of publicly available materials. We asked participants what was important to them now, and what they think will be important in five to ten years.
What is important now
We found that our top four priority issues were clearly aligned with those of our external stakeholders. Climate change clearly stood out as the most important issue for all of us.
Concerns about climate change extended beyond emissions reduction to the need to consider our impact on nature more holistically, for example on water and biodiversity, and how resilient the natural environment is to climate-induced change.
Respecting human rights, cultural and heritage site management, and health, safety and wellbeing, were the next most significant topics for both internal and external stakeholders. Business integrity and governance, and local community relations, remain important topics as we continue to rebuild trust with our stakeholders.
What will be important in the future
Our internal and external stakeholders feel that climate change will only continue to increase in importance over the next decade, as will geopolitical uncertainty, the impact of technology, and end-to-end materials management. Other emerging topics include water management due to the reliance of local communities and mining operations on an increasingly scarce resource, and biodiversity due to the increasing impacts of climate change. Human rights will also continue to be of high importance – it is a critical foundation of our social licence to operate.
It is also clear that supply chain accountability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) transparency are becoming increasingly important to customers, consumers, investors and financial markets, including our insurance providers. As we produce more critical minerals for batteries, electric vehicles and renewable energy technology, there will be a higher burden of proof in value chain provenance.
#Based on 60 internal and 68 external stakeholders (note: some interviewees chose not to answer one or more questions). The score represents an average of all respondents in each stakeholder group. Source: Primary interviews and surveys.