|The Business Response to HIV/AIDS: Innovation & Partnership (UNAIDS, 1997, 60 p.)|
|Examples of Company Actions on HIV/AIDS|
A. THE COMPANY
Rio Tinto, the result of a merger between The RTZ Corporation and CRA Ltd, is one of the world's largest mining and smelting businesses. It operates 49 mines and 12 smelters and employs 51,000 people worldwide. In 1996, annual revenues exceeded US$ 8.4 billion.
B. REASONS FOR ACTION ON HIV/AIDS
The company's interest in HIV/AIDS prevention is primarily employee protection. Its workforce is skilled, and the loss of miners and technical staff is not only a personal and family tragedy, but also results in healthcare, retraining and other costs for the employer. Mining camps in southern Africa in particular have experienced a surge in the disease, not least because many miners face long periods of separation from their wives.
C. EXAMPLE ACTIONS
In the late 1980s, medical staff at The RTZ Corporation's four mining operations in Zimbabwe became aware of the emergence of HIV among the workforce. Projections for the growth rate of the disease were alarming. The company quickly developed a strategy to deal with the problem. The strategy comprised:
1. The formation of volunteer, employee-led AIDS Action Groups" to act as peer counsellors and head an aggressive campaign of employee education on the issues.
2. The provision of condoms to the largely male workforce.
The company already provided extensive technical training for its workforce, as well as health services to the families, and also traditionally dealt with welfare matters associated with working in the mines. Non-profit-sector trainers helped company medical staff train volunteer peer counsellors in each mine on HIV/AIDS issues; the volunteer counsellors were then included in the existing health and safety training sessions, and their use promoted by medical staff. When possible, the volunteer counsellors also educated the mine workers' wives on HIV/AIDS prevention. In addition, since high-quality condoms are difficult to acquire in rural Africa, the company set up a system of condom distribution for the workforce.
D. RESULTS TO DATE
The company's programmes in the four mines in Zimbabwe demonstrate successful preventive measures, as Glen Williams and Sunanda Ray report in their study of workplace-based AIDS initiatives in Zimbabwe.1 A closed community like a mining camp permits the tracking of sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates and the measuring of the impact of condom distribution programmes, and the condom programme at Rio Tinto. Figure 15 shows how these initiatives have worked to reduce the rate of STD infection in the mines, dramatically so at the Renco site.
1 Work Against AIDS. Workplace-Based AIDS Initiatives in Zimbabwe, by Glen Williams and Dr Sunanda Ray. Published by ActionAid, London, December 1993.
Not only has Rio Tinto protected employees and their families from HIV/AIDS with these measures considerably helping contain the spread of the disease even while the rate of infection has continued to rise in the country overall but it has also improved their health generally by decreasing their exposure to STDs, in doing so saving the costs of that treatment also.
Importantly, the results demonstrate the impact of a well-constructed and sustained approach in reducing risky behavior by employees in a high-infection area The company stresses the need for persistence in getting the message across and in ensuring the availability of condoms to meet the demand created by the education campaign. In their study of the work at Rio Tinto's mines in Zimbabwe, Williams and Ray also stress the long-term perspective that is vital for the campaign's success: "Despite these achievements, the AIDS Action Groups have to keep coming up with new, entertaining ways of communicating the same basic messages Says Isaac Rioga, a surveyor and member of the Brompton Group: ´The campaign must go on. It is like Castle beer it's very popular but it still needs to be advertised all the time. 2
The lessons learned in Zimbabwe by Rio Tinto have been transferred to other sites in Africa (Namibia and the Republic of South Africa) and in Brazil. The company has also joined with the public sector and NGOs to spread the message in the communities around the mines.
Contact: Dr Richard Gaunt
Rio Tinto plc
6 St James's Square
London SW I Y 4LD
Tel: 44 171 930 2399
Fax: 44 171 930 3249
FIGURE 15 Condom and STD programmes at Rio Tinto Zimbabwe, 1990-92