The drivers transport borax from the Boron Mine in California to the Port of Los Angeles. © Rio Tinto
The drivers transport borax from the Boron Mine in California to the Port of Los Angeles. © Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto investigates logistics supplier over worker rights

29 April 2019

Global mining company Rio Tinto has announced an investigation into a logistics supplier amid allegations of workers’ rights violations.

A group of truck drivers working for US drayage carrier California Cartage Express, a division of NFI Industries, demonstrated at Rio Tinto’s AGM in London on 14 April. Supported by the US labour union for drivers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the drivers claimed they were experiencing unfair wage reductions “due to misclassification as independent contractors”, and poor enforcement of Rio Tinto’s supplier code of conduct.

Rio Tinto owns and operates the Boron Mine in California, one of the largest borax mines in the world and producing almost half of the world’s supply of refined borate products, according to Rio Tinto. The drivers transport borax from the mine to the Port of Los Angeles.

A spokesperson for Rio Tinto told SM: “Rio Tinto requires vendors and suppliers to comply at all times with our supplier code of conduct and Rio Tinto’s The Way We Work. We take these allegations seriously and have asked Cal Cartage to demonstrate that it is meeting our supplier code of conduct.”

Gustavo Villa, a port truck driver for Cal Cartage Express, said: “We came before Rio Tinto's board of directors and shareholders to bring light to the worker exploitation taking place in the company's supply chain and told them why we believe that Rio Tinto must take swift action against this exploitation.” 

A spokesperson for California Cartage Express told SM: “California Cartage Express is committed to complying with all laws and the company is in full compliance with the Rio Tinto supplier code of conduct. These unfounded allegations that are being made against the company are part of an ongoing effort by the Teamsters union to force independent truck drivers throughout California to organise against their will.”

Rio Tinto’s supplier code of conduct outlines “fundamental human rights” that suppliers are required to uphold, including ensuring work is not forced or compulsory labour, fair wages and working conditions, prevention of harassment and discrimination, and upholding workers’ rights to “lawfully and peacefully” join labour unions.

Borax is a component of many detergents, cosmetics and enamel glazes while borate compounds are used to strengthen LCD screens.

Fred Potter, vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and director of the Teamsters Port Division in the US, commented: “The hardworking truck drivers who haul this heavy cargo 150 miles from Boron to the harbor have experienced wage theft due to unlawful misclassification by their employer, Cal Cartage Express, as independent contractors rather than employees.

“The Teamsters Union is committed to making certain that Rio Tinto enforces its supplier code of conduct by committing to doing business only with trucking companies that align with Rio Tinto's values.”

Earlier this month, NFI Industries' subsidiary K&R Transportation was involved in a lawsuit surrounding wage theft due to misclassification as independent contractors. The court ordered the K&R to pay 10 California port truck drivers $1.2m for unpaid wages, unpaid meal and rest breaks and illegal paycheck deductions.

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