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UK reporting watchdog forced Rio Tinto to publish ESG financial risks

Investigation followed complaint from investor.

Rio Tinto, the world’s second largest mining firm, has been investigated by the UK Financial Reporting Review Panel (FRRP), the watchdog on corporate financial information, after complaints that it failed to disclose financially sensitive information about environmental and social risks to investors in its 2008 annual report. The risks included health concerns for workers and local people living near the company’s uranium mines around the world, as well as community reputation issues at its La Granja copper development in Peru and the Eagle project in Michigan in the US. The FRRP referral suggests that investors are pushing regulators for better oversight on financially relevant ESG data. A research report by Citi Investment Research, the broker arm of the US investment bank, flagged up the investigation. Rio Tinto said that following discussions with the (FRRP), it had improved disclosure on the risks in its 2010 annual report, which was published recently ahead of the company’s annual general meeting in London on 14 April. The FRRP was established in 1990 as part of the Financial Reporting Council and seeks to ensure that the provision of financial information by public and large private companies complies with relevant accounting requirements. Significantly, the company said it had released additional details of its interests in the Grasberggold mine – the world’s largest – in Indonesia, and on relevant environmental and social risks. The company was also pushed to refer in its annual report to the liquidation of its shares and blacklisting by the Norwegian Government Pension Fund in 2008 as an example of the possible impact of the reputational risks faced by the group. Rio Tinto operates a production sharing joint venture with US company Freeport McMoRan Copper&Gold at Grasberg. The Norwegian Government Pension Fund sold shares worth NOK 4,419m (€551m) in Rio Tinto Plc. and NOK430m (€54m.) in Rio Tinto Ltd in 2008 over allegations of serious environmental damage at the Grasberg mine. The Norwegian Ministry of Finance, which oversees the exclusion of companies from the fund’s investment portfolio, said it had been given no indication Rio Tinto would change its environmental policy, despite lobbying the group. The fund’s exclusions are followed closely by institutional investors worldwide, many of whom who regard its well-researched decisions as a proxy on companies they should avoid investing in. Rio Tinto said it had also published further information on the potential for its mining operations to impact on biodiversity in Madagascar.