Rio Tinto has found disturbing patterns of racism, sexism, harassment and sexual assault among its global workforce of 47,500, according to a new investigation.
On Tuesday, the mining giant published the findings of an external review it commissioned last year after months of scrutiny about how workers were being treated.
According to the report, which was overseen by Australia’s former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, “bullying and sexism are systemic across Rio Tinto worksites, with almost half of the people experiencing bullying.”
The workplace review focused on workers’ experiences over the last five years. Twenty-one women reported actual or attempted rape or sexual assault, while almost a third of all women said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, the audit found.
Meanwhile, racism was found to be “common across a number of areas,” with a survey “indicating [that] people working in a country different to their birth experienced high rates of racism, and that 39.8% of men and 31.8% of women who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in Australia experienced racism.”
Rio Tinto employs people in 35 countries. The company said its workplace review involved more than 10,000 respondents to an online survey, interactive group and individual sessions, and a call for written entries.
“I feel shame and enormous regret to have learned the extent to which bullying, sexual harassment and racism are happening at Rio Tinto,” CEO Jakob Stausholm said in a statement.
“The findings of this report are deeply disturbing to me and should be to everyone who reads them. I offer my heartfelt apology to every team member, past or present, who has suffered as a result of these behaviors. This is not the kind of company we want to be.”
Broderick, who is also a UN special rapporteur on discrimination against women, commended the company for “proactively commissioning this study.”
“There is clear recognition, however, that new approaches are needed to solve these issues,” she added.
The company has now pledged to follow dozens of new recommendations to improve its culture.
Among them are vows “to ensure that women and other minority groups are deployed to operational sites as part of a cohort” or with additional support; to set up a new unit to allow people experiencing harmful behavior to report it early; and to increase diversity throughout the company.
Men make up 79% of Rio Tinto’s workforce, though the company has taken steps to recruit more female workers lately.
Mining companies have faced questions about workplace safety in recent months, particularly in Western Australia, where a parliamentary inquiry was launched into sexual harassment against women in the field last year.
In response to that inquiry, BHP (BBL), another major industry player, disclosed that it had terminated as many as 48 people over sexual harassment reports in the region from 2019 to 2021.
In a statement to CNN Business on Tuesday, Rio Tinto also said that 142 workers globally had faced disciplinary action over the past year, while 38 people had been fired “as a result of the types of disrespectful behaviors” covered by its new report.
Both Rio Tinto and BHP have partnered to create new programs to tackle their respective workplace problems, including racism and bullying.
Rio Tinto has been trying to repair its image in the aftermath of its demolition of the Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia in 2020. The company destroyed the 46,000-year-old Indigenous site in 2020 to expand an iron ore mine, stoking outrage. The backlash eventually forced out its former CEO.