Ethical Performance
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Rio Tinto


More by Rio Tinto - Back to the spring 2003 issue
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case study

Rio Tinto has partnered with 14 non-governmental organizations to help realize its policy objective of putting the group’s global operations on a more sustainable footing. We profile its work with one of these NGOs – BirdLife International

As anyone who has ever visited a flooded gravel pit knows, where miners have been, birds tend to follow. And so, in turn, do birdwatchers, who will often stay in the area to spend their tourist dollars.

Building on this simple observation, a grouping of more than 100 conservation bodies and the world’s third-largest mining company have come together in a partnership that seeks to achieve objectives common to both organizations.

Each party had very different reasons for becoming involved in the Rio Tinto-BirdLife Birds and the Environment Programme. BirdLife saw it as an opportunity to harness the power and reach of a global company to improve biodiversity and protect threatened species. For Rio Tinto the partnership, which will initially last five years, is part of a wider policy to put its operations on a more sustainable footing.

‘Successful partnerships are all about realizing the mutual benefits’, says Jonathan Stacey, project manager of the Rio Tinto-BirdLife Programme. ‘That principle underlies all partnerships and makes them sustainable.’ For its part, Rio Tinto has entered into partnership agreements with 13 other environmental, indigenous and educational non-governmental organizations, including Earthwatch, Fauna & Flora International, the Centre for Appropriate Technology, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and WWF-Australia. From northern Canada, where it is involved with local communities, to Victoria in Australia, where it has supported efforts to conserve the platypus, Rio Tinto has entered partnerships to tackle issues ranging from biodiversity through water management to human rights.

Sustainable development is easy to talk about, but hard to put into practice, especially when you are a mining giant with a substantial ecological footprint. Partnerships are a useful way of realizing opportunities that would simply not be available to an organization acting alone.

John Hall, Rio Tinto’s corporate relations manager, says: ‘This is about policy development. A company that is serious about sustainable development has to take partnership seriously because it is through genuine partnerships that change happens.’

The relationship between BirdLife International and Rio Tinto began three years ago, when birding events were held at 21 of the company’s 66 operations around the world. The Rio Tinto Birdwatch is now an annual global event – last year, there were 43 Birdwatch events and more than 1400 people were involved, among them many of the company’s employees – but they are only one element in a much wider programme of work.

Rio Tinto has set ambitious sustainable development objectives: developing biodiversity best practice at Rio Tinto sites; ensuring the company’s programmes take biodiversity into account at the outset of a project, and involving communities near sites in biodiversity management. The partnership programme is an important element of this strategy.

‘We are seeking to influence how a multinational with a global presence incorporates nature conservation objectives into its core operating activities’, says Stacey.

Rio Tinto typically operates sites for between ten and 30 years and has been mining at some for more than a century. Its operations affect people at least as much as wildlife. At one site, Richards Bay in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, the Rio Tinto-BirdLife International Programme began work last year to establish a sustainable ecotourism network for the area. The R2million (£160,000, $251,000) four-year programme involves BirdLife International South Africa, the Rio Tinto-managed subsidiary Richards Bay Minerals and other stakeholders working together to develop the area for ecotourists. An information centre has been set up, hides built and guides trained, while work has begun to develop a long-term plan to conserve the area.

Richards Bay is globally important for birds, particularly wildfowl, and also attracts rarities such as the crab plover. But many of the areas popular with birds are being damaged by pollution and industrial development.

‘Richards Bay has the potential to be the hub for bird-based ecotourism in northern KwaZulu-Natal, which is already a well-known area for ecotourism in South Africa, and the idea is to develop the resource to the point where local businesses are able to sustain themselves’, says Stacey. Richards Bay is already part of a green tourist trail and ‘avitourism’ now forms one part of Richards Bay Minerals’ work to build up the local economy well in advance of when the mine eventually closes. The local business advice centre, set up by the company in 1986 to promote local enterprises, has helped to create more than 2500 jobs and establish 900 firms.

‘The Avitourism Project is placing birds and biodiversity at the core of Richards Bay’s developing economy,’ says BirdLife. ‘By identifying locations and sites of biodiversity value and developing them as economic assets to local communities, this initiative is cultivating a model for sustainable development in the true sense of the phrase.’ In Madagascar, Namibia and elsewhere, the company operates in the vicinity of important birding areas where there is similar potential for avitourism to provide jobs for local people and help biodiversity.

The relationship between Rio Tinto and BirdLife is complex, with social, environmental and commercial interests all jostling for space. This makes trust an essential ingredient in the partnership mix. As Stacey says, ‘Trust allows the programme to challenge the view that businesses and conservation organizations operate exclusive and polarized agendas.’

Further information: John Hall, corporate relations manager, at

more about Rio Tinto

Statoil, based in Stavanger, Norway, is one of the world’s largest net sellers of crude oil and a substantial seller of natural gas in Europe. With more than 16,500 employees worldwide, it has oil operations in 25 countries and runs around 2000 service stations in nine countries. It:

co-financed the upgrading of the Azerbaijani election code to international standards

is supporting the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Human Rights Education Project in Azerbaijan, which trains teachers in basic human rights so they can include the subject in the curriculum

published its first corporate social responsibility report in 2002

has an in-house human rights awareness and training programme for staff that is provided by Amnesty International.

the background

In 1998, less than one per cent of Venezuelans said they had confidence in the country’s legal system.

CC comment

Businesses – just like citizens – prosper in stable, just and transparent societies. Many countries are still struggling to learn this lesson. This partnership is one example of how a company can help catalyze social and economic development to benefit society as a whole, by changing public sentiment and improving trust, transparency and justice.

features of interest:

capacity building is a key element of this partnership. Its implications may well reach far beyond the immediate scope of the project

allotting each partner a clear role and responsibility has helped to make the partnership more transparent, which benefits partners, target groups and stakeholders alike

it appears that the partnership is systematically transferring its experiences and knowledge to other organizations Ð such as the United Nations. This should extend its impact beyond national borders.


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