Everywhere we work, we respect and support all internationally recognised human rights, in line with the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We were the first mining company to embrace Indigenous land rights in the Pilbara, Australia in 1997, and we were also one of the first companies in the world with a standalone human rights policy. We are proud of these achievements, but know we have more to do.
Respect for human rights starts with everyday actions. It is a responsibility we take seriously every day, every shift – from governance, overseen by the Sustainability Committee of the Board of Directors, to processes like pre-screening suppliers and providing human rights training to our employees.
We ranked third overall, and second within our sector, in the 2020 Corporate Human Rights Benchmark.
Our Approach to Respecting Human Rights
We know we can affect human rights everywhere we work and beyond our operations. We also know that what we do in one location may affect people’s trust in how we will respect human rights elsewhere.
We implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). We have also voluntarily committed to upholding a range of other international standards and guidelines, including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Global Compact.
At a minimum, we comply with national laws, applying our own standards when they are more rigorous. When national laws conflict with our standards, we look for ways to encourage the adoption of international standards, including through multi-stakeholder dialogue. We may also reconsider whether we can operate in such locations.
We recognise that due to the nature of our business and its complex and global supply chain, there is always a chance that we may be involved in adverse human rights impacts through our business relationships, including our joint ventures and relationships with our many suppliers and contractors. We therefore look for ways to increase our leverage to help our business partners respect human rights in line with international standards. At our non-managed operations, this may include discussing human rights issues at joint management meetings and sending Rio Tinto representatives to build capacity of operational staff.
Over the course of 2019, we had discussions with investors, global civil society organisations and community members on topics like security, land access, climate change and environment, and labour rights (including modern slavery). This included roundtables with human rights-focused civil society organisations in Australia and North America. We also clarified our principles of engagement with civil society organisations, highlighting our commitment to meaningful and constructive dialogue, including support for an open civic space.
Also in 2019, for the second year running, we were ranked as the top extractives company and second overall in the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark. We were also included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index Metals & Mining Sustainability Leaders group and the FTSE4Good indices.
We know we still have more work to do to make sure we maintain and improve our human rights performance. During the year, we also strengthened how we manage human rights-related workstreams across functions within our organisation. This involved our human rights specialists working more closely with teams such as Ethics & Compliance, Procurement and Marine to help identify, manage and address human rights risks.
Other actions in 2019
- Publishing our third Modern Slavery Statement and our annual report on how we are implementing the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR)
- Supporting the Australian Red Cross with the design and review of an online training module on Security, Armed Conflict and International Humanitarian Law, which they will use to improve the understanding and implementation of the VPSHR in countries affected by (or at risk of) armed conflict
- Delivering VPSHR training to our operational business leaders and people responsible for security, including both private and public security personnel
- Implementing a modern slavery clause in our global standard contract for suppliers
- Continuing to screen suppliers for human rights-related risks including modern slavery, and taking action where necessary
- Actively participating in responsible sourcing schemes (such as the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative and the ICMM Performance Expectations) to validate company performance on human rights
Our Work on the Ground
In line with the UNGPs, we undertake human rights due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate adverse human rights impacts with which we may be involved. Human rights due diligence comprises four elements: identifying and assessing our impacts; integrating the findings from those assessments into relevant internal functions and processes and taking appropriate action; tracking our human rights performance and communicating how impacts are addressed. We prioritise action around our salient human rights issues – the human rights that we believe are at risk of the most severe negative impacts through our activities and business relationships.
But effective management of human rights issues requires daily vigilance – from the way we work with our local communities to the way we choose our suppliers. For example, we screen suppliers to identify potential human rights risks of engaging or renewing that supplier, including around issues like forced and child labour.
Because the issues are complex, and not always readily apparent, all of our sites are required to provide localised human rights training to staff, contractors and visitors. We also offer specific online human rights modules to our corporate functions on issues relating to communities, procurement, security and inclusion and diversity. And we look for other ways to build capacity amongst our colleagues of our human rights risks and how to manage them.
Identifying Risks - Jadar
In 2017 Rio Tinto conducted baseline studies to identify potential human rights impacts for the Jadar lithium–borate project in Serbia. A human rights baseline report was developed in partnership with YUCOM (Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights), a Serbian human rights organisation.
The baseline report identified human rights risks for the project and communities. It highlighted areas including health and safety; working conditions and non-discrimination at work; access to natural resources; and managing project-driven inflation among others. The report informed project design and guidance on other mitigations and opportunities. The results were also shared with key contractors, including the project’s engineering, construction and project management provider, to ensure an aligned approach to embedding practical human rights practices across the project.
During the next project stage human rights issues will be further considered as part of the Social Impact Assessment and human rights training is planned for the entire project team including contractors to ensure practices that respect and support human rights and reduce risks for the project impacted communities.
Complaints, Disputes & Grievances
Talking to our stakeholders and getting feedback, including complaints, is a vital part of our approach to respecting human rights. It helps us to provide effective remedies where we identify we have caused or contributed to harm, improve the way we run our operations, and is also a crucial part of understanding systemic issues as part of our human rights due diligence process.
All of our sites must have a complaints, disputes and grievance mechanism, in line with the UNGPs' Criteria of Effectiveness for Non-Judicial Grievance Mechanisms. These criteria help to make sure that any grievance mechanism we have in place is legitimate, accessible and trusted.
Our responsibility to respect human rights includes providing (or cooperating in) remediation in cases where we identify that we have caused or contributed to an adverse human rights impact. We also look to play a role in remediation where we are directly linked to harm through our products, services or operations. We know the importance not just of agreeing to legitimate remediation, but ensuring it is implemented in practice by our operational teams to ensure that remediation is delivered and fit for purpose.
In addition to our site-level mechanisms, we have a confidential, anonymous and independently operated whistleblowing programme Talk to Peggy, which is available to all employees and their families, suppliers, contractors, business partners and community members. We make it clear in our Supplier Code of Conduct that suppliers and contractors are encouraged to use this service as necessary.
Partnering with Australia's Indigenous Peoples
We have a long tradition of partnering with Indigenous people across our global operational footprint. Rio Tinto’s endorsement of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is an example of this approach.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Australian constitution. This means Indigenous Australians will be better equipped to make decisions about their own rights and interests and will secure their long-term realisation of human rights.
We believe national conversations around constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians must continue as a priority.
As one of the largest private sector employers of Indigenous Australians, we look forward to working with Indigenous communities, state and federal governments and the rest of Australia towards reconciliation.
Measuring and Reporting on our Performance
Our Communities and Social Performance targets for 2016-2020 include reducing repeat and significant human rights complaints at our operations. We are focused on reducing repeat and significant complaints, rather than the number of complaints we receive. This is because we want to ensure that people are willing to use our grievance mechanisms to make complaints but also that we are managing complaints effectively so that the same issues are not recurring without being addressed, especially significant complaints. Our annual Modern Slavery Statement also explains how we are measuring our human rights performance relating to modern slavery, including through auditing our Know Your Supplier procedure and reassessing our supply chain risk assessment.
We have also taken steps to increase our transparency around our human rights performance. This includes publishing our Annual Report to the Voluntary Principles Initiative on implementation of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, trying to continuously improve our annual Modern Slavery Statement and recently publishing our view on the role of civil society organisations.
Our Human Rights Commitments
We have committed to follow a range of international standards, including:
- United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
- United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
- United Nations Global Compact
- International Council on Mining and Metals Principles for Sustainable Development and Performance Expectations
- International Finance Corporation’s Environmental and Social Performance Standards
Human Rights and our Supply Chain
We work to prevent and address human rights harm through our business relationships. We do this by pre-screening potential business partners on their human rights record before we engage them, as well as requiring suppliers (including contractors and other agents) to adhere to our Supplier Code of Conduct which necessitates respect for human rights.
Our standard contractual terms also require suppliers (including contractors and other agents) to take reasonable steps to prevent and address modern slavery in their supply chain, and grant us the right to audit our suppliers, for compliance against these requirements.
Working with Human Rights Defenders
We know we do not always get it right, and we welcome conversations and partnerships that help us improve. We value diversity of thoughts and ideas, and know that civil society organisations and other human rights and environmental defenders can be important advocates for change. We respect the human rights of these individuals and groups and recognise the importance of an open civic space. We make it clear that attacks on human rights and environmental defenders will not be accepted, including when we engage with our business partners.
Our statement on the role of civil society organisation outlines our approach to engaging with civil society organisations and other human rights defenders. This includes regular dialogue with civil society organisations on human rights issues.
We have developed a number of public guides on human rights related issues to help further public awareness and the capacity of our own people and business partners. These guides are:View all
Salient Human Rights Issues
Our salient human rights issues are those where we could have the most severe impact on people through our operations or business relationships.
We prioritise the following six salient human rights issues, and we continue to work to prevent and address these, and other human rights issues, across our operations and business relationships.
In line with the human rights due diligence process set out in the UNGPs, we manage our salient human rights issues through ongoing risk management processes. These aim to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how we address any involvement in adverse human rights impacts.