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Rio Tinto report reveals culture of sexual harassment, bullying and racism

Eight-month independent review of Rio Tinto’s workplace culture uncovered shocking reality. (Stock image.)

Rio Tinto (ASX, LON: RIO) has unveiled the results of an unfavourable external report outlining a culture of “systemic” bullying, sexual harassment and racism within the ranks of the world’s second largest miner.

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

The report, covering a five-year period and based on a survey answered by about 10,000 Rio Tinto employees, shows that almost 30% of women and 7% of men said they had been sexually harassed at work. Of those people, 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 said they had been bullied, the report released Tuesday revealed.

Racism was a “significant challenge” for employees at many locations. People working in a foreign country experienced high rates of racism while nearly 40% of men who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in Australia had experienced racism.

“I have copped racism in every single corner of this company,” one employee was anonymously quoted as saying.

Stausholm said the results were “disturbing” and that the company would implement all 26 recommendations from the report.

“The eye-opener for me was twofold,” Stausholm told Reuters. “I hadn’t realized how much bullying exists in the company and secondly that it’s quite systemic – the three issues of bullying, sexual harassment and racism … that’s extremely disturbing.”

Rio Tinto is the latest Australian miner to address issues with its corporate culture. BHP said last year that it had fired 48 workers for sexual attacks and harassment since 2019, in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into sexual assault in Western Australia’s remote fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) sites.

Stausholm’s hand

Stausholm, a Danish national who took the top post 13 months ago, has put in practice his touted crisis management and peacemaking skills. Besides trying to restore trust with Australian indigenous groups and other stakeholders, the company has faced alleged corruption charges in Guinea related to Rio Tinto’s way of securing rights to the massive Simandou iron ore deposit.  

The former head of finances has also tackled Oyu Tolgoi’s delay and climbing costs, which triggered Mongolia’s ire to the point of threatening to revoke the 2009 investment agreement underpinning the mine development. This feud was settled last month, following Stausholm’s visit to Mongolia.

Kellie Parker, Rio Tinto Australia’s chief executive, said the company is already addressing issues outlined in the report. Special attention will be given to the company’s internal reporting system after respondents said they had no confidence in complaining to their superiors and felt that doing so could put them or their career prospects in danger.

Read the full report here.

(With files from Reuters)