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On the heels of California’s new joint liability law, which underscores the responsibility beneficial cargo owners (BCO’s) hold within their supply chains, workers and activists are now turning to BCO’s to ensure their trucking contractors are in compliance with labor standards.

Global mining giant Rio Tinto is the latest example of companies that have been trying to clean up their act across the globe and are now facing scrutiny of their supply chains here in the United States. Human and labor rights activists have long challenged the international corporation for abuses including alleged environmental and labor breaches in Native Mongolian herding communities, human rights violations and thousands of deaths linked to a Papua New Guinea copper and gold mine it once ran, among others.

Today, Rio Tinto publicly professes a commitment to human rights and workers’ rights and wellbeing. Its Supplier Code of Conduct – which outlines its expectations for suppliers across the globe – includes standards for “labour and human rights,” including “Ensuring fair remuneration and work conditions for all workers” and “Respecting workers’ rights to lawfully and peacefully form or join trade unions of their choosing and to bargain collectively.”

Community activists and faith leaders join striking drivers for Rio Tinto’s trucking contractor NFI/Cal Cartage Express in delivering petition to Rio Tinto’s Salt Lake City corporate headquarters

This week’s strike by drivers at Rio Tinto’s trucking contractor serving its mine in Boron, CA drew calls for Rio Tinto to put its words into action. The contractor, NFI-owned Cal Cartage Express, (NFI/CCX), has a long record of labor and wage violations, including being sued by LA’s City Attorney in 2018 for violation of CA’s unfair competition law for misclassifying drivers as independent contractors. Since then, the California Labor Commissioner has found 14 NFI/CCX drivers to be employees – not independent contractors – and owed a combined $3.7 million. Monday, drivers walked out on their fourth strike in as many years to protest unfair labor practices.

The strike erupted at NFI/CCX’s new operation in Wilmington, CA, where the company recently moved after losing its crown jewel, the massive warehousing and trucking operation on Port of LA property. The company chose to walk away from its prime location after the City moved to require that the company agree to provisions to protect against further labor disruptions.

The former site was not only disrupted by multiple truck driver strikes; warehouse workers had engaged in seven work stoppages there to protest unfair labor practices. Just this week, an administrative law judge issued a decision finding that Cal Cartage management – including former owner Robert Curry – unlawfully threatened workers during a 2016 union organizing drive. This most recent decision is one of many findings of the type of violations against which corporate codes of conduct like Rio Tinto’s are intended to protect.

The persistent labor and wage violations at NFI/CCX and reports of indentured servitude within the port drayage industry have activists questioning whether codes of conduct like Rio Tinto’s actually mean anything. Community members have joined workers in delegations to Rio Tinto’s Wilmington headquarters to bring their concerns to light, and in March, NFI/CCX drivers attended Rio Tinto’s AGM in London to urge them to enforce their Supplier Code of Conduct in light of the unabated violations.

Despite these calls for action, Rio Tinto has continued to contract with NFI/CCX to haul its borax from Boron to the ports. This week, groups of workers, community members, and faith leaders traveled to the mine in Boron and to Rio Tinto’s corporate offices in Salt Lake City to appeal to Rio Tinto executives to enforce its corporate responsibility standards. A striking driver then traveled to London seeking answers from Rio Tinto global management. They all presented petition with over 5,000 signatures from concerned community members who are asking Rio Tinto to uphold their Supplier Code of Conduct and cut ties to a company which repeatedly breaks the law.

As of this writing, Rio Tinto appears to continue its long-standing business partnership with NFI/CCX and has not yet severed ties.