Employees, Tom Price, Pilbara

Indigenous Peoples

We pay our respects to Elders past and present and commit to supporting and developing tomorrow’s Indigenous leaders from within our business – and beyond.

Many of our operations are on or near land that is significant to Indigenous communities. We recognise the cultural, spiritual and physical connections that Indigenous peoples have with land, water, plants and animals.

We know we have work to do to be better partners with Indigenous peoples. There have been defining moments, such as Juukan Gorge, that have compelled us to evolve our approach. We are determined to strengthen our approach to engagement with Indigenous peoples in every country where we work.

We remain committed to learning and moving forward in new ways – always side by side – with the communities that host us.

We reiterate our commitment to respect internationally recognised human rights aligned with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and to implement core international standards, including the UNGPs.

Upholding rights

Indigenous peoples are entitled to all human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, international law recognises their collective rights to their land and its resources, inclusive of special and spiritual relationships they may have with both, warrant particular attention and protection.

We seek to operate in a manner consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognises the right of Indigenous peoples to “maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources” (Article 25).

We strive to achieve the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples (as defined in the IFC Performance Standard 7 on “Indigenous Peoples”) in line with the International Council on Mining and Metals position statement on Indigenous peoples and mining.

Adam, Chief Adviser Indigenous Affairs

Meet Adam Lees

Chief Adviser Indigenous Affairs
I am a Traditional Owner and descendant of the Meriam people of Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait and the Yadhaigana people of Cape York Peninsula. I also celebrate my English, Irish and Filipino heritage. I am the third generation of my family to work for Rio Tinto.

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"When I was 29, I quit my job as a budding diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. While it was a job that many people dream of, it just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t see myself doing that job for the rest of my life. I took a year off work. I mowed lawns and did landscape gardening in my hometown of Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia. A job came up at Mount Isa Mines and I became the first Senior Indigenous Affairs Adviser in the company’s history.

There were few Indigenous people in professional roles in the industry at that time. I developed the Company’s Indigenous Affairs strategy, managed cultural heritage, designed and delivered cultural awareness programmes. I also convinced mine management to work with the Kalkadoon Native Title claimants and not against them. I‘ve been told that the mine and Traditional Owners still enjoy a close and positive relationship as a result of that decision 21 years ago. I’m proud of this legacy. Since then my work in the mining industry has taken me all over Australia and across Africa. I’ve had an amazing career.

Indigenous employees must be at the front and centre of Rio Tinto’s cultural transformation following the tragic events of Juukan Gorge.

Leadership at the site and every level of the company must be actively guided and informed by Indigenous experiences, our views and our voices. We know our communities the best.

I’ve seen the benefits of active Indigenous employee engagement. It is well founded that sharing personal experiences and stories helps to significantly shift attitudes and understanding. My vision is that our communities and employees are fully supported in Rio Tinto to grow and be their very best.”

Guided by global standards

Our approach to engaging with Indigenous peoples aligns with the ICMM Sustainability Framework, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. We use the International Finance Corporation's (IFC) Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability; our CSP standard commits us to compliance with the following IFC Performance Standards:

As members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), we support the commitments outlined in ICMM’s Indigenous Peoples and Mining Position statement and ICMM’s Mining Principles. We also support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Australian Advisory Group

We have established an Australian Advisory Group (AAG) to provide guidance on current and emerging issues, and better manage policies and positions that are important to both Australian communities and our broader business.

We have confirmed the inaugural Chairperson as Professor Peter Yu, and other members include Michelle Deshong, Nyadol Nyuon, Yarlalu Thomas, Djawa Yunupingu, Cris Parker, and Shona Reid. The first AAG meeting was held in March 2022.

Improving our standards and practices

We are refining, updating, and enhancing our management systems, standards and reporting to ensure we understand and manage risk.

We will provide specialised regional and technical support through deep subject matter expertise in the areas of Indigenous People, heritage, agreements, economic development, resettlement, social impact analysis, and social risk.

We are undertaking a refresh of our global communities and social performance (CSP) standard and will review our CSP risks and controls across our business. We are monitoring the external environment and engaging with stakeholders to ensure we respond to emerging trends in practical and appropriate ways.

Cultural awareness

We know we must build a culture of active inclusion and cultural safety, where people live our values and speak up freely if something does not feel right.

In Australia, we are reinvigorating our cultural awareness training, with all frontline staff, including the Board, undertaking both e-learning and face-to-face training with Indigenous Australians. Traditional Owners have viewed this content and where possible also attend training sessions to share further information. At our Iron Ore business in the Pilbara, we started delivering a newly co-developed cultural awareness training via immersive virtual reality. We are also rolling out regionally specific, Traditional Owner-led cultural awareness training in the Pilbara.

In North America, two virtual cultural awareness sessions were facilitated by an Indigenous-owned business, and numerous site-based sessions were held in 2021, including at our IOC operations, which have introduced mandatory cultural awareness for employees and contractors and achieved full compliance in 2021. We have also launched online cultural awareness training on Canadian Indigenous peoples’ history, culture and industry interaction.

We want to inspire a shared sense of custodianship of the land, and an elevated understanding and empathy towards the region's Traditional Owners, their culture, heritage and story.”

- Jason, Traditional Owner Engagement

In Australia

5x

Number of Australian Indigenous leaders since 2020

80%

Of senior leaders completed our Cultural Connection programme

2,200+

Heritage sites reviewed in the Pilbara, adding further protection controls

100 million

Dry tonnes of iron ore removed from reserves in 2020 and 2021 through ongoing consultation with Traditional Owners

Australian Advisory Group

Established

2021 figures

Australian heritage legislation reform

We support strengthening safeguards for cultural heritage at both state and Commonwealth legislative levels, including the reform process currently underway to ensure an incident like the destruction of rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia never happens again.

These reforms must ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are placed at the centre of decision-making on matters relating to protection of their cultural heritage.

We continue to work with Indigenous peoples and communities to ensure we better understand their priorities and concerns, minimise our impacts, and responsibly manage Indigenous cultural heritage within our operations.

We welcome the release of a joint Commonwealth Government and First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance Discussion Paper designed to strengthen state and federal cultural heritage protection laws.