GLOBAL – Nordic investors, including four of Sweden’s AP buffer funds, have achieved what they class as a significant breakthrough in their engagement efforts with mining company Rio Tinto.

The effort, led by GES on behalf of the four main AP funds, as well as Folksam, Norway’s KLP and Finland’s Ilmarinen, had been urging both companies for five years to improve their environmental performance at the Grasberg mine in Papua, jointly operated with Freeport.

Following the dialogue with GES, Rio Tinto has established a strengthened waste management standard for all its operations, while some of GES’ recommendations have been adopted for Freeport’s annual environmental report.

The changes could prohibit Rio Tinto from practicing riverine disposal – disposal of waste into the local waterways – on new projects at Grasberg, depending on how the company interprets its own words. GES said progress on the matter would be an issue for investors to monitor.

Shane Chaplin, senior engagement manager at GES, commented: “For companies with high impact operations such as Rio Tinto and Freeport at Grasberg, transparency can be a double-edged sword.

“An honest report can expose the problems for the world to see, and a stronger standard can make it harder for companies to take the cheap and easy way out.”

He added: “Ideally, the company admits the need for improvement and puts in place a robust programme to achieve change. The informed stakeholders then become agents for this change.”

In other news, concerns have emerged in the UK that complacency could be settling in about increasing the number of female board appointments.

The latest report from the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders showed that while the pace of appointments was initially encouraging, with 44% of FTSE 100 appointments women in the six months after the most recent report was released, the pace has since slowed.

However, those high levels were short-lived, with women only comprising 26% of new crecrits at FTSE 100 companies over the past six months, rising to 29% at FTSE 250 firms. The rate falls far short of the 33% required to reach Lord Davies’ recommendation of 25% women on boards by 2015.

There were now 194 female-held directorships in 93 of the FTSE 100 boardrooms, which equates to 17.3%, a slight increase on last year’s figure of 15%. The number of FTSE 100 companies with all-male boards has now dropped to seven, and 67% of the FTSE 100 have more than one woman on their board.

Ruth Sealy, co-author of the report, said: “Lord Davies’ target for FTSE 100 companies is still in sight but only if the rate of new appointments going to women regains momentum promptly.

“Only a quarter of FTSE 100 companies have already achieved the target and the drop in the last six months is worrying,” she added.

Top of this year’s ranking was Burberry with three women directors out of eight, a total of 37.5% of the board. It is also the only FTSE 100 company that has two female executive directors, with both the chief executive and CFO roles held by women. Diageo ranked second with four women directors out of 11, 36.4% of the board. In joint third place are Capita, GlaxoSmithKline and Standard Life, each with 33.3% of their boards being female.

Susan Vinnicombe, co-author of the report, said: “At Cranfield we have stood steadfast against quotas on the basis that chairmen must understand the benefits of gender diversity and commit to achieving it.

She added: “Undoubtedly a number of chairmen do get it and see a gender balanced board as the new normal.  Unfortunately too many chairmen choose to ignore the issue in the false hope that it will go away.

The report did reveal positive signs from the FTSE 250 companies with 13.3% women on boards, up from 9.4% last year. A total of 183 companies, 73%, had women in their boardrooms, a substantial increase from last year’s figure of 54%.