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Responsible diamond mining
By: Diamond World News Service
Aug 13 2014 6:56PM
Reference: 9428  

Rio Tinto Diamonds
Jean-Marc Lieberherr, Managing Director, Rio Tinto Diamonds
Balancing social and environmental considerations with commercial considerations is a given for Rio Tinto Diamonds and we have learned from our experiences that gains are possible on numerous fronts when companies invest their time to understand the environment in which they operate, and work in true partnership with local communities and organisations to address local environmental and social issues. In other words: no blundering and telling communities what is good for them. This type of work needs to be built on regular conversations, careful observations and steady relationship-building. Rio Tinto Diamonds has diamonds mines in Australia, Canada and in Zimbabwe and Bunder project in Madhya Pradesh. These environments are quite disparate and raise very different issues in terms of their care, protection and community work.

Planning: You simply cannot expect ‘one-size-fits-all’ CSR programme to work in these very different worlds. In each case, Rio Tinto Diamonds has taken time to get to know these unique environments, their unique profile and character, their strengths and sensitivities, and to understand their impact on the lifestyles, livelihoods and overall well-being of the communities that live in and around them. Before we commence any project we carefully research the expectations that the public has from us and the issues of concern. We do not always have the skills to address these issues and one way we overcome this is by working in partnership with respected community, environmental and non-governmental organisations. Rio Tinto currently has about 20 such global partnerships.

At our Murowa mine and developing Bunder mine sites, which are located in areas of significant disadvantage, we run programs to address broader community health issues that impact on the wellbeing of our workforces, such as the high prevalence in these areas of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Community outreach programs in these locations are designed to build awareness of how these communicable diseases are spread, decrease the social stigmatisation for sufferers, and encourage more people to get tested.

On the environmental front at our Diavik mine in north-western Canada, water is considered a precious resource, despite the northwest region having an abundance of lakes and rivers. It is especially important to Aboriginal people, as water provides habitat that is critical to their traditional lifestyles. Here, programs are in place to ensure that no pollutants enter Lac de Gras, the large lake nearby. A fish palatability program works with local communities to assess the ongoing health of the fish in the lake and to ensure there is no negative impact on their texture or taste. Diavik is also working with Canadian universities on research assessing the effects of mine blasts on fish.

At our Argyle mine in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia we have worked closely with the traditional owners of the mining lease areas, developing participation agreements to ensure that their interests in the land are respected and that current and future generations benefit directly from the operations of the mines. We have set in place training and business development programs to improve the skills base of local communities and support the growth of self-sustaining businesses. In addition, we have a commitment to improving community and social infrastructure for indigenous communities, supporting local education and health projects and establishing scholarships for students.

Whilst our developing Bunder mine in Madhya Pradesh has not yet been built, we have been actively consulting with local communities to ascertain how a mine might improve their quality of life and have been developing community programs in areas of identified need such as health, education, improved water resource management and sustainable agricultural practices. In close partnership with on-the-ground providers, we have funded initiatives to help empower local women to improve their future prospects and those of their families, including child health and nutrition programs and training programs to help women take advantage of employment opportunities at the mine. Like our other mines, Bunder is fully committed to employing local people wherever possible and providing training to help them avail themselves of these new economic opportunities.

Overall, Rio Tinto Diamonds puts an extraordinary amount of effort into devising ways to fulfil our public commitment to operate in a corporately responsible manner. It is simply the way we do business these days, he wraps up perfectly to the point.

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