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 37,000 suppliers and 1,700 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. 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 Rio Tinto Fer et Titane 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.
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.
And 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.