Rio Tinto Group's Sustainable Development Agenda
Mary B. Teagarden and Andreas P. J. Schotter
The Rio Tinto Group has been a leader in implementation of sustainable development in the mining industry. During Sir Robert Wilson's 30+-year Rio Tinto career, the company evolved from taking a reactive response to external stakeholder criticism to a proactive position to help the mining industry, and industry in general, embrace sustainable development practices. Wilson championed Rio Tinto's efforts to transform the company with initiatives such as those that countered apartheid in South Africa; introduced conservation programs in Madagascar and Western Australia; and established the Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve project in Utah—efforts which have all become models for the mining industry. Once the company had a solid sustainable development track record, Wilson shifted his focus to include the entire mining industry. He championed the Global Mining Initiative and the Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development project to encourage the improvement of industry sustainable development practices thorough shared learning and dialogue. Along with 40 transnational companies, Rio Tinto signed the Global Compact, which supported the promotion of sustainable development. Despite all of these activities, Rio Tinto encountered significant criticism from a variety of stakeholders. As Sir Robert Wilson prepared to hand over the reins of the company to oil industry veteran Paul Skinner, he contemplated the insights he would pass along to his successor. He was certain that society's expectations of the corporate responsibility of all industry, and especially of MNCs, were going to continue to increase. He was also certain that sustainable development had to be more than a one-off effect on communities in which they operate. Yet, there were important questions to be answered: Sustainable development sounded good, but could Rio Tinto make the business case for embracing this approach? Why had some stakeholder groups persisted in believing that a mining company claiming to embrace sustainable development was a sham? What steps would he recommend that Skinner take to continue Rio Tinto's sustainable development agenda?
Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction
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