Rio Tinto is an Australian-British multinational and one of the world's largest metals and mining corporations. The company was founded in 1873, when a multinational consortium of investors purchased a mine complex on the Rio Tinto, in Huelva, Spain, from the Spanish government. Since then, the company has grown through a long series of mergers and acquisitions to place itself among the world leaders in the production of many commodities, including aluminium, iron ore, copper, uranium, coal, and diamonds. Although primarily focused on extraction of minerals, Rio Tinto also has significant operations in refining, particularly for refining bauxite and iron ore. The company has operations on six continents, but is mainly concentrated in Australia and Canada, and owns its mining operations through a complex web of wholly and partly owned subsidiaries. Rio Tinto has joint head offices in London (global and "plc") and Melbourne ("Limited" – Australia).
Rio Tinto Group is a dual-listed company traded on both the London Stock Exchange, where it is a component of the FTSE 100 Index, and the Australian Securities Exchange, where it is a component of the S&P/ASX 200 index.
Since antiquity, a site along the Rio Tinto, in the Andalusian Province of Huelva in Spain has been mined for copper, silver, gold, and other minerals. Around 3000 BC, Iberians and Tartessians began mining the site, followed by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. After a period of abandonment, the mines were rediscovered in 1556 and the Spanish government began operating them once again in 1724.
However, Spain's mining operations there were inefficient, and the government itself was otherwise distracted by political and financial crises, leading the government to sell the mines in 1873 at a price later determined to be well below actual value. The purchasers of the mine were led by Hugh Matheson's Matheson and Company, which ultimately formed a syndicate consisting of Deutsche Bank (56% ownership), Matheson (24%), and the civil engineering firm Clark, Punchard and Company (20%). At an auction held by the Spanish government for sale of the mine on 14 February 1873, the group won with a bid GB£3,680,000 (ESP 92,800,000). The bid also specified that Spain permanently relinquish any right to claim royalties on the mine's production. Following purchase of the mine, the syndicate launched the Rio Tinto Company, registering it on 29 March 1873. At the end of the 1880s, control of the firm was passed to the Rothschild family, who greatly increased the scale of its mining operations.
Following their purchase of the Rio Tinto Mine, the new ownership constructed a number of new processing facilities, innovated new mining techniques, and expanded mining activities.
From 1877 to 1891, the Rio Tinto Mine was the world's leading producer of copper.
From 1870 through 1925, the company was inwardly focused on fully exploiting the Rio Tinto Mine, with little attention paid to expansion or exploration activities outside of Spain. The company enjoyed strong financial success until 1914, colluding with other pyrite producers to control market prices. However, World War I and its aftermath effectively eliminated the United States as a viable market for European pyrites, leading to a decline in the firm's prominence.
The company's failure to diversify during this period led to the slow decline of the company among the ranks of international mining firms. However, this changed in 1925, when Sir Auckland Geddes succeeded Lord Alfred Milner as chairman. Geddes and the new management team he installed focused on diversification of the company's investments and operations and reformation of marketing strategy. Geddes led the company into a series of joint ventures with customers in the development of new technologies, as well as exploration and development of new mines outside of Spain.
Perhaps most significant was the company's investment in copper mines in Northern Rhodesia later Zambia, which it eventually consolidated into the Rhokana Corporation. These and later efforts at diversification eventually allowed the company to divest from the Rio Tinto mine in Spain. By the 1950s, Franco's nationalistic government had made it increasingly difficult to exploit Spanish resources for the profit of foreigners. Rio Tinto Company, supported by its international investments, was able to divest two-thirds of its Spanish operations in 1954 and the remainder over the following years.
Like many major mining companies, the Rio Tinto Group has historically grown through a series of mergers and acquisitions.
The company's first major acquisition occurred in 1929, when the company issued stock for the purpose of raising 2.5 million pounds to invest in Northern Rhodesian copper mining companies, which was fully invested by the end of 1930. The Rio Tinto company consolidated its holdings of these various firms under the Rhokana Corporation by forcing the various companies to merge.
Rio Tinto's investment in Rhodesian copper mines did much to support the company through troubled times at its Spanish Rio Tinto operations spanning the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and Franco's nationalistic policies. In the 1950s, the political situation made it increasingly difficult for mostly British and French owners to extract profits from Spanish operations, and the company decided to dispose of the mines from which it took its name. Thus, in 1954, Rio Tinto Company sold two-thirds of its stake in the Rio Tinto mines, disposing of the rest over the following years. The sale of the mines financed extensive exploration activities over the following decade.
The company's exploration activities presented the company with an abundance of opportunities, but it lacked sufficient capital and operating revenue to exploit those opportunities. This situation precipitated the next, and perhaps most significant, merger in the company's history. In 1962, Rio Tinto Company merged with the Australian firm Consolidated Zinc to form the Rio Tinto – Zinc Corporation (RTZ) and its main subsidiary, Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA). The merger provided Rio Tinto the ability to exploit its new-found opportunities, and gave Consolidated Zinc a much larger asset base.
RTZ and CRA were separately managed and operated, with CRA focusing on opportunities within Australasia and RTZ taking the rest of the world. However, the companies continued to trade separately, and RTZ's ownership of CRA dipped below 50% by 1986. The two companies' strategic needs eventually led to conflicts of interest regarding new mining opportunities, and shareholders of both companies determined a merger was in their mutual best interest. In 1995, the companies merged into a dual listed company, in which management was consolidated into a single entity and shareholder interests were aligned and equivalent, although maintained as shares in separately named entities. The merger also precipitated a name change; after two years as RTZ-CRA, RTZ became Rio Tinto plc and CRA became Rio Tinto Limited, referred to collectively as Rio Tinto Group or simply Rio Tinto.
Major acquisitions following the Consolidated Zinc merger included U.S. Borax, a major producer of borax, bought in 1968, Kennecott Utah Copper and BP Australia's coal assets which were bought from British Petroleum in 1989, and a 70.7% interest in the New South Wales operations of Coal & Allied Industries also in 1989. In 1993, the Company acquired Nerco and the United States coal mining businesses of Cordero Mining Company.
In 2000, Rio Tinto acquired North Limited, an Australian company with iron ore and uranium mines, for $2.8 billion. The takeover was partially motivated as a response to North Limited's 1999 bid to have Rio Tinto's Pilbara railway network declared open access. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission regulatory body approved the acquisition in August 2000, and the purchase was completed in October of the same year. That year, Rio Tinto also bought North Limited and Ashton Mining for US$4 billion, adding additional resources in aluminium, iron ore, diamonds, and coal. In 2001, it bought (under Coal and Allied Industries) the Australian coal businesses of the Peabody Energy Corporation.
On 14 November 2007, Rio Tinto completed its largest acquisition to date, purchasing Canadian aluminium company Alcan for $38.1 billion. As of 2014, this acquisition remains "the largest mining deal ever completed". Alcan's chief executive, Jacynthe Cote, leads the new division, which has been renamed Rio Tinto Alcan and its headquarters situated in Montreal.
Activity in 2008 and 2009 was focused on divestments of assets to raise cash and refocus on core business opportunities. The company sold three major assets in 2008, raising about $3 billion in cash. In the first quarter of 2009, Rio Tinto reached agreements to sell its interests in the Corumba iron ore mine and the Jacobs Ranch coal mine, and completed sales of an aluminium smelter in China and the company's potash operations, for an additional estimated $2.5 billion.
On 5 July 2009, four Rio Tinto employees were arrested in Shanghai for corruption and espionage. One of the arrested, Australian citizen Stern Hu, was "suspected of stealing Chinese state secrets for foreign countries and was detained on criminal charges", according to a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry. Stern Hu was also accused of bribery by Chinese steel mill executives for sensitive information during the iron ore contract negotiations.
On 19 March 2010 Rio Tinto and its biggest shareholder, Aluminum Corporation of China Limited (Chinalco), signed a memorandum of understanding to develop Rio Tinto's iron ore project in the Simandou mine in Simandou, Guinea. On 29 July 2010, Rio Tinto and Chinalco signed a binding agreement to establish this joint venture covering the development and operation of the Simandou mine.
Under the terms of the agreement, the joint venture maintains Rio Tinto's 95% interest in the Simandou project as follows: By providing US$1.35 billion on an earn-in basis through sole funding of ongoing development over a 2-3 year period, Chalco, a subsidiary of Chinalco, would acquire a 47% interest in the joint venture. Once the full sum was paid, Rio Tinto would be left with a 50.35% interest in the project and Chalco would have 44.65%. The remaining 5% would be owned by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the financing arm of the World Bank. On 22 April 2011 Rio Tinto, its subsidiary Simfer S.A. (Simfer), and the Guinean Government signed a settlement agreement that secured Rio Tinto’s mining rights in Guinea to the southern concession of Simandou, known as blocks 3 and 4. According to the agreement, Simfer would pay US$700 million and receive mining concession and government approval of the proposed Chalco and Rio Tinto Simandou joint venture.
In April 2011, Rio Tinto gained a majority stake in Riversdale Mining.
In 2011, the company rekindled its interest in potash when it entered a joint venture with Acron Group to develop the Albany potash development, in southern Saskatchewan, Canada. Following an exploration program, Acron in a June 2014 statement described Albany as "one of the best potash development opportunities in the world".
On 13 December 2011, an independent arbitrator cleared the way for Rio Tinto, which had owned 49% of Ivanhoe Mines (now known as Turquoise Hill Resources), to take it over: he said the $16-billion Canadian group's "poison pill" defence was not valid. Ivanhoe had developed Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia, one of the world's largest-known copper deposits. On 28 January 2012, Rio Tinto gained control of Ivanhoe Mines and removed the management.
In October 2013, Rio Tinto agreed to sell its majority stake in Australia’s third-largest coal mine to Glencore and Sumitomo for a little over US$1 billion, as part of the firm’s plans to focus on larger operations. Less than a year later, Rio Tinto rejected two merger proposals from Glencore, proffered in July and August 2014; the merger of Glencore and Rio Tinto would have created the world's largest mining company.
In May 2015, Rio Tinto announced plans to sell some of its aluminium assets as part of a possible $1 billion deal, two years after a similar but failed attempt.
Rio Tinto is primarily organised into four operational businesses, divided by product type:
These operating groups are supported by separate divisions providing exploration and function support.
Rio Tinto Group has a complex structure of partly and wholly owned subsidiaries, each held within one of the five operational groups described above. Major subsidiaries include:
Rio Tinto Group is structured as a dual-listed company, with listings on both the London Stock Exchange (symbol: RIO) under the name Rio Tinto Plc. and the Australian Securities Exchange (symbol: RIO) in Sydney under the name Rio Tinto Limited The dual-listed company structure grants shareholders of the two companies the same proportional economic interests and ownership rights in the consolidated Rio Tinto Group, in such a way as to be equivalent to all shareholders of the two companies actually being shareholders in a single, unified entity. This structure was implemented in order to avoid adverse tax consequences and regulatory burdens. To eliminate currency exchange issues, the company's accounts are kept, and dividends paid, in United States dollars.
Rio Tinto is one of the largest companies listed on either exchange. As such, it is included in the widely quoted indices for each market: the FTSE 100 Index of the London Stock Exchange, and the S&P/ASX 200 index of the Australian Securities Exchange. LSE-listed shares in Rio Tinto plc can also be traded indirectly on the New York Stock Exchange via an American Depositary Receipt. As of 4 March 2009, Rio Tinto was the fourth-largest publicly listed mining company in the world, with a market capitalisation around $134 billion. As of mid-February 2009, shareholders were geographically distributed 42% in the United Kingdom, 18% in North America, 16% in Australia, 14% in Asia, and 10% in continental Europe.
On 8 November 2007, rival mining company BHP Billiton announced it was seeking to purchase Rio Tinto Group in an all-share deal. This offer was rejected by the board of Rio Tinto as "significantly undervalu[ing]" the company. Another attempt by BHP Billiton for a hostile takeover, valuing Rio Tinto at $147 billion, was rejected on the same grounds. Meanwhile, the Chinese government-owned resources group Chinalco and the US aluminium producer Alcoa purchased 12% of Rio Tinto's London-listed shares in a move that would block or severely complicate BHP Billiton's plans to buy the company. BHP Billiton's bid was withdrawn on 25 November 2008, with the BHP citing market instability from the global financial crisis of 2008–2009.
On 1 February 2009, Rio Tinto management announced that they were in talks to receive a substantial equity infusion from Chinalco, a major Chinese state-controlled mining enterprise, in exchange for ownership interest in certain assets and bonds. Chinalco is already a major shareholder, having bought up 9% of the company's ownership in a surprise move in early 2008; ownership had risen to 9.8% by 2014, making it Rio Tinto's biggest investor. The proposed investment structure reportedly involves $12.3 billion for the purchase of ownership interests of Rio Tinto assets in its iron ore, copper, and aluminium operations, plus $7.2 billion for convertible bonds. The transaction would bring Chinalco's ownership of the company to roughly 18.5%. The deal is still pending approval from regulators in the United States and China, and has not yet been approved by shareholders, although regulatory approval has been received from Germany and the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. The largest barrier to completing the investment may come from Rio Tinto's shareholders; support for the deal by shareholders was never overwhelming and has reportedly declined recently, as other financing options (such as a more traditional bond issuance) are beginning to appear more realistic as a viable alternative funding source. A shareholder vote on the proposed deal was expected in the third quarter of 2009.
Rio Tinto is believed to have pursued this combined asset and convertible bond sale to raise cash to satisfy its debt obligations, which require payments of $9.0 billion in October 2009 and $10.5 billion by the end of 2010. The company has also noted China's increasing appetite for commodities, and the potential for increased opportunities to exploit these market trends, as a key factor in recommending the transaction to its shareholders.
In March 2010, it was announced that Chinalco will invest $1.3 billion for a 44.65% stake in Rio Tinto's iron ore project in Simandou, Guinea. Rio Tinto retains 50.35% ownership at Simandou.
In November 2011, Rio joined with Chinalco to explore for copper resources in China's complex landscape, by setting up a new company, CRTX, which is 51% owned by Chinalco, and 49% by Rio Tinto.
Under the company's dual-listed company structure, management powers of the Rio Tinto Group are consolidated in a single senior management group led by a board of directors and executive committee. The board of directors has both executive and non-executive members, while the executive committee is composed of the heads of major operational groups.
Rio Tinto's main business is the production of raw materials including copper, iron ore, coal, bauxite, diamonds, uranium, and industrial minerals including titanium dioxide, salt, gypsum, and borates. Rio Tinto also performs processing on some of these materials, with plants dedicated to processing bauxite into alumina and aluminium, and smelting iron ore into iron. The company also produces other metals and minerals as byproducts from the processing of its main resources, including gold, silver, molybdenum, sulphuric acid, nickel, potash, lead, and zinc. Rio Tinto controls gross assets of $81 billion in value across the globe, with main concentrations in Australia (35%), Canada (34%), Europe (13%), and the United States (11%), and smaller holdings in South America (3%), Africa (3%), and Indonesia (1%).
Copper was one of Rio Tinto Group's main products from its earliest days operating at the Rio Tinto complex of mines in Spain. Since that time, the company has divested itself from its original Spanish mines, and grown its copper-mining capacity through acquisitions of major copper resources around the world. The copper group's main active mining interests are Minera Escondida in Chile, the Grasberg Mine (40% stake) in Indonesia, Kennecott Utah Copper in the United States, Northparkes in Australia, and Palabora in South Africa. Most of these mines are joint ventures with other major mining companies, with Rio Tinto's ownership ranging from 30% to 80%; only Kennecott is wholly owned. Operations typically include the mining of ore through to production of 99.99% purified copper, including extraction of economically valuable byproducts. Together, Rio Tinto's share of copper production at its mines totalled nearly 700,000 tonnes, making the company the fourth-largest copper producer in the world.
Rio Tinto Copper continues to seek new opportunities for expansion, with major exploration activities at the Resolution Copper project in the United States, La Granja Mine in Peru, and Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia. In addition, the company is seeking to become a major producer of nickel, with exploration projects currently underway in the United States and Indonesia.
Although not the primary focus of Rio Tinto Copper's operations, several economically valuable byproducts are produced during the refining of copper ore into purified copper. Gold, silver, molybdenum, and sulphuric acid are all removed from copper ore during processing. Due to the scale of Rio Tinto's copper mining and processing facilities, the company is also a leading producer of these materials, which drive substantial revenues to the company.
Sales of copper generated 8% of the company's 2008 revenues, and copper and byproduct operations accounted for 16% of underlying earnings. Rio Tinto will exclusively provide the metal to produce the 4,700 gold, silver, and bronze medals at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.This is the second time Rio Tinto will be supplying the metal for Olympic medals, having previously done so for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics. Together, Rio Tinto's share of copper production at its mines totalled nearly 700,000 tonnes, making the company the fourth-largest copper producer in the world. Rio Tinto also owns the naming rights to Rio Tinto Stadium located in nearby Sandy, Utah, and the home of the Major League Soccer team, Real Salt Lake.
The Rio Tinto Group has consolidated its aluminium-related businesses in its Rio Tinto Alcan division, formed in late 2007, when Rio Tinto purchased the Canadian company Alcan for $38.1 billion. Combined with Rio Tinto's existing aluminium-related assets, the new Rio Tinto Alcan vaulted to the world number-one producer of bauxite, alumina, and aluminium. Rio Tinto Alcan kept key leadership from Alcan, and the company's headquarters remain in Montreal.
Rio Tinto Alcan divides its operations into three main business units. The Bauxite and Alumina unit mines raw bauxite from locations in Australia, Brazil, and Africa. The unit then refines the bauxite into alumina at refineries located in Australia, Brazil, Canada, and France. The Primary Metal business unit's operations consist of smelting aluminium from alumina, with smelters located in 11 countries around the world. The Primary Metal group also operates several power plants to support the energy-intensive smelting process. Finally, the Engineered Products unit processes aluminium into derivative products for speciality uses ranging from beverage containers to aerospace applications.
Rio Tinto Alcan has interests in seven bauxite mines and deposits, six alumina refineries and six speciality alumina plants, 26 aluminium smelters, 13 power plants, and 120 facilities for the manufacture of speciality products. The acquisition of Alcan operations in 2007 substantially increased Rio Tinto's asset base, revenues, and profits: in 2008, 41% of company revenues and 10% of underlying earnings were attributable to Rio Tinto Alcan.
Rio Tinto Energy is a business group of Rio Tinto dedicated to the mining and sale of coal and uranium.
The company focuses on both fuel coal for electricity generation in coal power plants, and coking coal for use in iron and steel mills. The company's coal operations are located in Australia and the United States, mainly operating under its subsidiaries such as Rio Tinto Coal Australia and Rio Tinto Energy America. In 2009, Rio Tinto was engaged in an ongoing attempt to sell off assets of Rio Tinto Energy America. In March 2009, the company agreed to sell a major asset, the Jacobs Ranch coal mine in Wyoming, to Arch Coal for $761 million, and is continuing to seek buyers for remaining assets in an effort to reduce corporate debt. In 2011, the group acquired various coal-mining assets in Mozambique, including the Benga coal mine for $3.9 billion. In 2013, the assets were written down by $3 billion, while CEO Tom Albanese and coal-mining head Doug Ritchie, who spearheaded the purchase, were ousted from the company. In February 2014, the assets were written down by a further $470 million. On 28 July 2014, Rio severed its interest altogether, selling out to International Coal Ventures Private Limited (ICVL), a consortium of companies owned by the Indian government for $50 million. ICVL had been one of the under-bidders when Rio bought in.
Rio Tinto's uranium operations are located at two mines: the Ranger Uranium Mine of Energy Resources of Australia and the Rössing Uranium Mine in Namibia. The company is the third-largest producer of uranium in the world. According to Rio Tinto's website, the company institutes strict controls and contractual limitations on uranium exports, limiting uses to peaceful, nonexplosive uses only. Such controls are intended to limit use of the company's uranium production to use as fuel for nuclear power plants only, and not for use in the production of nuclear weapons. Rio Tinto Energy was responsible for 12% of revenues and 18% of underlying earnings in 2008.
Rio Tinto Diamonds operates three diamond mines: the Argyle Diamond Mine in Western Australia (100% ownership), the Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories of Canada (60% ownership), and the Murowa Diamond Mine located in Zimbabwe (78% ownership). Together, these three mines produce 20% of the world's annual production of rough diamonds, making Rio Tinto the world's third-largest producer of mined diamonds.
The diamond business unit's most advanced exploration project is the Bunder Project in District Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh, India, where Rio Tinto became the first foreign group to be granted a prospecting license there. Rio Tinto Diamonds generated 1% of revenues and earnings for Rio Tinto Group in 2008.
Rio Tinto Minerals is a diverse business group with mining and processing interest in borates, salt, and gypsum. Rio Tinto Borax, with main operations in California and another mine in Argentina, supplies nearly half of the world's annual demand for refined borates. The Minerals group is also majority owner of Dampier Salt, which produces over 9 million tonnes of salt and 1.5 million tonnes of gypsum annually from its three facilities in northwest Australia. Rio Tinto Minerals accounted for 6% of company revenues, and contributed 3% to earnings in 2008.
On 31 January 2010, the management of U.S. Borax locked out its hourly workforce, replacing the workers with nonunion workers and managers from other Rio Tinto operations. The 560 International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 30 members immediately began a fireside vigil that garnered national and international labour attention. ILWU filed several unfair labour practices against the company, including an illegal lock-out claim.
Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium (RTIT) oversees the company's iron and titanium production. RTIT generated a large portion of the company's revenues and earnings in 2008, accounting for 27% and 52%, respectively, of company-wide operating results.
Rio Tinto is the world's second-largest supplier of iron ore, producing over 153 million tonnes in calendar year 2008. The company's major iron ore mines and development projects are located in Australia, South America, Canada, India, and Guinea. Major subsidiaries held within RTIT include Hamersley Iron, majority interest in the Pilbara Iron mines, and the Iron Ore Company of Canada. The company also runs smelting facilities for the production of iron and steel—limited in size in comparison to the massive amount of iron ore produced—at QIT-Fer et Titane in Canada and HISmelt in Australia.
Titanium dioxide is mined at three locations in Canada, South Africa, and Madagascar, and refined at QIT-Fer et Titane's Canadian facilities. Major subsidiaries include Richards Bay Minerals of South Africa and QIT Madagascar Minerals. In 2008, Rio Tinto produced 1.524 million tonnes of titanium dioxide, or approximately 27% of the estimated global production of 5.6 million tonnes.
A media report in October 2013 revealed that the corporation plans to establish a fully automated railroad system for the transportation of iron ore across the Australian outback by 2015, thereby replacing the Group's train drivers. The United Kingdom-based transport historian Christian Wolmar stated at the same time that the train drivers are most likely the highest-paid members of the occupation in the world at that time. As part of an overall strategy to increase profit margins, the Group is spending US$518 million on the project.
Rio Tinto Group's revenues and earnings have grown substantially in 2003–2010, with one of the largest increases attributable to the company's acquisition of Alcan in 2007. Although operating margin is significantly impacted by the market prices of the various commodities it produces, Rio Tinto has remained profitable over its recent history and consistently generated positive cash flows from operations.
Rio Tinto's status as a mainly British-owned company, located in Spain and producing pyrites – an important material for military applications – created a complicated set of circumstances for the company's operation in the 1930s and 1940s. During the Spanish Civil War, the region in which Rio Tinto's mines were located came under the control of General Franco's Nationalists in 1936. However, Franco increasingly intervened in the company's operations, at times requisitioning pyrite supplies for use by Spain and its Axis allies Germany and Italy, forcing price controls on the company's production, restricting exports, and threatening nationalisation of the mines. Although company management (and indirectly, the British government) managed to counteract some of these efforts by Franco, much of the mine's pyrite production was channelled to Axis powers before and during World War II. Nonetheless, Franco's meddling caused the mine's production and profitability to fall precipitously during and after the war, leading the company to ultimately exit from its Spanish operations in 1954.
In 2015, Rio Tinto was criticised by the Guinean government for the many mining delays at the local Simandou mine. Cece Noramou, government official said the government was “running out of patience.” and President Alpha Conde himself said that "there have been people at Simandou for 15 years, 20 years, and they’ve never produced a ton of iron"
In late 2016, Rio Tinto agreed to sell its stake in the Simandou iron ore mine to Chinalco and exit the deal. The deal was negotiated after the company’s case against Vale and BSGR was dismissed at US District Court.
Rio Tinto Group has been widely criticised by environmentalist groups for its mining activities. Opposition to the company focuses on its mining methods due to environmental degradation, the company's coal operations for their contribution to global warming, and uranium operations for environmental and nuclear technology concerns.
Perhaps the most significant environmental criticism to date has come from the government of Norway, which divested itself from Rio Tinto shares and banned further investment due to environmental concerns. Claims of severe environmental damages related to Rio Tinto's engagement in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia led the Government Pension Fund of Norway to exclude Rio Tinto from its investment portfolio. The fund, which is said to be the world's second-largest pension fund, sold shares in the company valued at 4.85 billion kr (US$855 million) to avoid contributing to environmental damages caused by the company.
Exclusion of a company from the Fund reflects our unwillingness to run an unacceptable risk of contributing to grossly unethical conduct. The Council on Ethics has concluded that Rio Tinto is directly involved, through its participation in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia, in the severe environmental damage caused by that mining operation.
Rio Tinto disputes the claims of environmental damage at the Grasberg mine, and states that the company has long maintained an excellent record on environmental issues.
Activist groups have also expressed concern regarding Rio Tinto's operations in Papua New Guinea, which they allege were one catalyst of the Bougainville separatist crisis. The British antipoverty charity War on Want has also criticised Rio Tinto for its complicity in the serious human rights violations which have occurred near the mines it operates in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
On 31 January 2010, Rio Tinto locked out nearly 600 workers from a mine in Boron, California, USA.
Rio Tinto was also accused of planning and funding the murder of RTI activist Shehla Masood in Bhopal, India. Apparently, she was protesting illegal diamond mining done by Rio Tinto in connivance with government officers. The case was, however, solved and no connection to Rio Tinto was established, though popular opinion still perceives them as the possible culprit.
Rio Tinto is not, however, universally condemned for its ethical behaviour. The company has won an award for ethical behaviour, the Worldaware Award for Sustainable Development in 1993. The award, although given by an independent committee, is sponsored by another multinational corporation (in this case, the sponsor was Tate and Lyle). Rio Tinto has, in turn, sponsored its own WorldAware award, the Rio Tinto Award for Long-term Commitment. The British charity Worldaware ceased to exist in March 2005. These awards, awarded to extractive industries which make some environmental commitments to deflect the more general criticisms of their operations, are referred to by corporate watchdog groups as "greenwashing".
In 2009, Chinese authorities began investigating allegations that were brought against Rio Tinto. These included bribing executives from 16 of China's biggest steel mill companies in order to get hold of secret information. On 29 March 2010 four Rio Tinto employees were found guilty of these charges and of accepting millions of dollars in bribes. They were ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and sentenced to 7–14 years in jail.
Rio Tinto has been embroiled in a number of corruption allegations over its acquisition of stakes in the Simandou iron ore mine in Guinea. The allegations center around the payment of a $10.5 million bribe to François de Combret, a French banking consultant who was a friend and advisor of President Alpha Conde.
Rio launched an internal probe into the matter, run by an independent law firm, and on 9 November 2016 announced it would report the findings to SEC, the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office, Australia’s Securities and Investments Commission, and the U.S. Justice Department. They also declared they would cooperate with all related investigations and fired two top executives in connection with the matter, one of whom was head of energy and minerals, Alan Davies, who led the Simandou operation in 2011. He was suspended after the investigators discovered suspicious emails discussing contractual payments from that year. Davies claimed that there were no grounds for the termination of his employment.
The President denied having any knowledge of the illegal transactions, but recordings obtained by France24 prove otherwise.
Sam Walsh, the retiring CEO of the company, has had 80% of his pay withheld while the investigation continue.
Also in early November 2016, Former mining minister of Guinea, Mahmoud Thiam, claimed that the head of Rio Tinto’s operation in Guinea offered him a bribe in 2010 in order to win back control of the Simandou mine, and that his offer was supported by senior members of the company.
Rio Tinto is currently facing at least 4 class action suits in the US demanding damages over the corruption allegations in Guinea. The suit states that Rio Tinto made “materially false and misleading statements” that “deceived” investors.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating a $3 billion impairment charge against Rio Tinto Group regarding a coal deal they made in Mozambique. Rio acquired Riversdale Mining Ltd. - an Australian coal mining company with significant interests in Mozambique - in 2011 for $2.9 billion in an all-cash deal. Two years later they wrote-down the value of the assets by $3 billion. Following the impairment charge, which included an additional $11 billion in asset write-downs, Chief Executive Officer of Rio Tinto, Tom Albanese stepped down from his post and left the company. Rio later sold the assets for $50 million. The investigation is ongoing.