Mining association to set up protocol to tackle discrimination, sexism by year-end

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The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) plans to introduce measures that will “propel” its members to be “more transparent” on issues like sexual harassment and discrimination by the end of this year, the group’s CEO said days after Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO; LSE: RIO; ASX:  RIO) reported patterns of racism, sexism and harassment among its global workforce. 

The association, which includes about 50 of Canada’s leading mining companies, is developing an “equity, diversity, and inclusion” protocol as part of its existing Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) program, which is a condition of membership and requires companies to measure, evaluate and report on their performance, Pierre Gratton told The Northern Miner.  

Gratton said the decision behind the move stems back to MAC’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, when it decided to update its standards on Indigenous and community relationships. 

About a year later in November 2021, a working group from the association including officials from member companies and non-profits began developing a “performance criteria” to address diversity-related issues, which includes sexual harassment and discrimination.  

“We are hopeful that by the end of this year we will have a draft for the board’s review,” said Gratton. “If approved … it will propel everyone to do what Rio has done, in that, it will make us more transparent on these kinds of issues like it has done for all the other areas that we have addressed in the TSM.”     

“We are pretty excited about it. In the past sometimes it’s been difficult to convince the board to develop a new protocol, but this one, it pretty well sailed through all along. I think the industry knows that it has issues… and it needs to address them.”  

MAC’s sustainability program currently has eight protocols with performance indicators that address issues like climate change, forced labour and tailings management. The companies need to assess themselves based on those indicators and assign a third party to verify the assessments once every three years.  

The system is overseen by a group including representatives from indigenous communities, organized labour, NGOs and others, said Gratton.  

“Too early to say”

When asked if Rio Tinto’s reports on sexual harassment could speed up the protocol’s progress, Gratton said it was “too early to say” on whether the report would have any influence, but that the member-company is scheduled to make a presentation on the report to one of the association’s committees in the coming weeks. “They want a deeper dive on the report,” said Gratton.  

On February 1, Rio Tinto unveiled the results of an unfavourable external report outlining a culture of “systemic” bullying, sexual harassment, and racism. 

Based on a survey, answered by about 10,000 Rio Tinto employees, the report shows that almost 30% of women and 7% of men said they had been sexually harassed at work. Of those, 21 female workers also reported cases of actual or attempted rape or sexual assault. 

Nearly half of all employees who responded to an external review of the miner’s workplace culture commissioned by Rio Tinto said they had been bullied, while racism was found to be common across several areas. 

The company requested the audit and it was carried out last year by Australia’s former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. The move was part of an ongoing effort to clean-up the company’s tainted image following the destruction of two 46,000-year-old sacred rock shelters in Western Australia in 2020. 

The report comes after BHP (NYSE: BHP; LSE: BHP; ASX: BHP) said last year that it had fired 48 workers for sexual attacks and harassment since 2019.  

Gratton said that he believes there’s a general recognition across MAC’s members that “a more balanced workforce will help prevent these kinds of events from happening.” 

(This article first appeared in The Northern Miner)