We all want the aluminium in our phone or coffee pod, and the diamond in our ring, to be produced responsibly – from treating people fairly to using water efficiently.
At Rio Tinto, we believe in the responsible production of materials and have a Group-wide sustainability strategy that seeks to ensure respect and care for people and the environment. We also set expectations of our business partners and suppliers to be aligned with our core values and policies.
From mine to market, we aim to ensure that end users, customers, investors and stakeholders can trace the responsible origin of our products. This is why we are seeking to extend the use of blockchain technology and advocate for a consistent set of environmental, social and governance metrics that everyone can use.
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 an MOU 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 (MOU) 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 the last year, our copper operations at Kennecott in the US, followed by Oyu Tolgoi 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 the carbon content. 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.
Also in 2018, we announced a pioneering new technology partnership with Alcoa, with support from Apple and the governments of Canada and Quebec, to further develop carbon-free aluminium smelting technology – an industry first. Our partnership reached a new milestone in 2020 with the completion of the construction of the ELYSIS Industrial Research and Development Center, in a space leased within our Complexe Jonquière in the Saguenay – Lac-Saint- Jean region in Quebec. Commissioning of the Centre is underway and full-scale research and development work is expected to start in the first half of 2021.
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 aluminium, which will be delivered to customers using blockchain technology. This ‘nutrition label’ for aluminium will provide key information about where and how the aluminium was produced, 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.
Diamonds with integrity
Over the past 30 years we have helped drive reform in the diamond 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 and managed carefully and responsibly, as is our 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 Supplier (KYS) and Know your Customer (KYC) procedures helps to 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.