Miners hit by backlash over toxic culture in wake of rape and racism scandal at Rio Tinto’s Australian site
The mining industry is under mounting pressure to clean up its act after a toxic culture of sexual assault, racism and bullying was uncovered at Rio Tinto.
A damning report this week found that 21 women working for the Anglo-Australian commodities giant have reported rape, attempted rape or sexual assault in the past five years.
‘Bullying is systemic. Sexual harassment and everyday sexism occur at unacceptable rates. Racism is common,’ the report concluded.
Toxic culture: A damning report this week found that 21 women working for Rio Tinto have reported rape, attempted rape or sexual assault in the past five years
Rio boss Jakob Stausholm said the findings were ‘deeply disturbing’. But the report also put a spotlight on an industry long accused of tolerating inappropriate behaviour, including heavy drinking and abuse.
Many problems centre on remote Fly-In, Fly-Out mining camps in the iron ore heartlands in Western Australia.
Investors and others are calling for action. The Health Employees Superannuation Trust Australia pension fund said it would ‘seek to engage with senior management and boards on how they are overseeing company culture’ to ensure high standards.
Miners, who struggled to recruit women, even as they grapple with a labour shortage, have been trying for years to change a ‘boys club’ culture. Top global miner BHP has an ‘ambitious, aspirational goal’ of achieving gender balance globally by 2025.
Investors and industry players gave Rio credit for publishing the findings from an external review launched last March but said others needed to act as well.
‘This is an industry problem. It’s a society problem. It’s no good them solving the problem on their side and it continues elsewhere,’ said Greg Busson, the Mining and Energy Union’s Western Australia state secretary.
Rio launched the review in March last year, not long after Stausholm took over the top job in the wake of a backlash over the company’s destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters to expand an iron ore mine.
Activist investor group Market Forces said Juukan Gorge highlighted a culture of arrogance and other deep seated issues at Rio Tinto.
‘The findings demonstrate the need for strong investor scrutiny of Rio Tinto and its governance,’ said Will van de Pol, asset management campaigner at Market Forces. ‘There is a need to improve culturally at Rio and this is yet another moment that needs to catalyse further change.’
Katie Mehnert of Ally Energy, a networking group connecting workers with firms, said: ‘The human element can’t be ignored. You can have the best assets on the planet, but if your culture is trash, who will want to work for you?’