Rio Tinto Says Racism and Sexual Harassment Are Widespread at Miner

Rio Tinto Says Racism and Sexual Harassment Are Widespread at Miner

SYDNEY—When one

Rio Tinto

RIO -2.38%

PLC worker reported she had been sexually harassed by a colleague, a manager told her it had probably been meant as a joke. Another employee said they felt so unsafe in the presence of a male manager that they had contemplated suicide.

Other employees at the global mining company spoke of frequent bullying by managers, racist comments, and a culture that consistently tolerates inappropriate behavior. Many were scared to report abusive behavior in case it harmed their careers.

The misconduct was detailed in a report commissioned last year by Rio Tinto and published on Tuesday. The report found that 48% of employees had experienced bullying and that 11% of staff had been sexually harassed. In both instances, women were disproportionately affected. The report by former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick followed surveys filled out by 10,000 employees online, more than 100 group listening sessions, 85 confidential individual sessions and close to 140 individual written submissions.

It didn’t identify individuals and mostly shielded their gender, race and sexuality, including the worker who said they had contemplated suicide.

Some workers said Rio Tinto had improved conditions over recent years, while others said they trusted the company to tackle harmful behaviors once it had been made aware of them.

The report led by Ms. Broderick was commissioned amid a broader cultural review by Rio Tinto following its destruction of two ancient rock shelters in Australia, which demolished a trove of indigenous artifacts and led to the departure of chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques, chairman

Simon Thompson,

and other senior executives.

The state government of Western Australia, where the bulk of Rio Tinto’s Australian assets are located, is also holding an inquiry into sexual harassment of women in the fly-in-fly-out mining industry. The inquiry has already received serious allegations of harassment.

Chief Executive

Jakob Stausholm

said he felt shame and regret at the extent of the bullying revealed by the report. He said he accepted the allegations made in the report as fact.

“What is disturbing is not just individual cases, which are always disturbing of course, but is more the systemic picture, the combination of bullying, sexual harassments and racism,” Mr. Stausholm told The Wall Street Journal.

The report’s 26 recommendations include increasing diversity within the company, ensuring camp and village facilities are safe, and improving complaint procedures. Mr. Stausholm, who stepped up from chief financial officer to succeed Mr. Jacques as chief executive in January 2021, said Rio Tinto would implement appropriate actions to address the recommendations.

Global miners have responded to labor shortages, entrenched before the Covid-19 pandemic, by trying to attract more female workers to one of the most male-dominated industries. Failure to tackle harassment and bullying would result in Rio Tinto missing out on talent, Mr. Stausholm said. Women accounted for 60% of Rio Tinto’s 2020 graduate intake, but only 19% of the total workforce.

Last year a Wall Street Journal analysis of government and company data showed that, over the past decade, increases in female workers have plateaued and even fallen back at some companies. Harassment was cited by women as among the major deterrents to a mining career.

The Rio Tinto report found that 28% of female workers had suffered sexual harassment, with 21 women reporting actual or attempted rape or sexual assault. About 53% of women reported being bullied, compared with about 47% of men. In Australia almost 40% of workers who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander reported being subjected to racism.

“I have copped racism in every single corner of this company,” said one worker, whose location wasn’t identified.

One worker said bullying was so intense they cried most nights and had to move teams after seeking professional help. Another said that when they expressed unhappiness over the culture at the global miner, they were told they should leave the company. All responses were kept anonymous from Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto’s remuneration committee is discussing the degree to which executive bonuses will be determined by the report’s recommendations being implemented, Mr. Stausholm said. Culture is part of environmental, social and governance performance, which accounts for 35% of short-term incentives for executives.

Write to Stuart Condie at [email protected]

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

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