Rio Tinto CEO to leave over Indigenous Australian cave destruction

Rio Tinto CEO to leave over Indigenous Australian cave destruction

Explosions in May to open up a mining area at an iron ore operation impacted two rock-shelters in the Juukan Gorge region of Western Australia's Pilbara region. Rio has since publicly apologised and has acknowledged multiple failures in its communication with the traditional owners that could have prevented the debacle.

Mr Jacques, who has been chief executive since 2016, will remain in his role until a successor can be found or until March 31, whichever is sooner, and the other two executives will leave the company on December 31, he said.

The cave blasts, which enabled Rio to access $135m of high-grade iron ore, drew global condemnation and damaged Rio's reputation for dealing with Indigenous groups in its worldwide operations.

In her biography on the Rio Tinto website, the company states: "Simone has played an important role in developing our vision of partnership, helping deliver sustained value to Rio Tinto and, on issues such as climate change, transparency and human rights, to society at large.In 2018, she was the architect of the effort to revisit our approach to environmental, social and governance performance, which continues to be implemented across our business".

"What happened at Juukan was wrong and we are determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation", Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said.

In a statement Friday, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corp., which administers their traditional lands, said that "we can not and will not allow this type of devastation to occur ever again".

After the caves were destroyed, a PKKP representative, John Ashburton, said losing the site was a "devastating blow".

"There's no one on that board with any real understanding of the Aboriginal groups who own the country on which they operate", Wyatt, who is also the state's indigenous affairs minister, told public broadcaster ABC.

"We looking closely at the separation arrangements, with the expectation that any exit won't provide a windfall", said Louise Davidson, CEO of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors.

Last week it was revealed that in the days running up to the caves' destruction in May, Rio Tinto hired lawyers in case opponents tried to seek injunctions to stop them.

While the May explosions were lawful under a Western Australian government decision, Rio has been accused of failing to act on information that later showed the heritage sites had greater significance than first understood.

Investors had criticised Rio's lack of action after the destruction.

CEO Jacques has apologized at an Australian Senate inquiry for the destruction that was against the wishes of Aboriginal traditional owners, saying there was no doubt the company could have made better decisions.

Iron Ore President Chris Salisbury will also leave, and Simon Niven, head of Corporate Relations, the unit responsible for engaging with Indigenous communities.

He and others said Rio Tinto's internal inquiries into the destruction of the caves had been slow-moving and inadequate.

"And it is misguided because when it cut bonuses recently it effectively put a price on something which is basically priceless and I think that that was tin-eared really".

The three executives were obliged to forfeit bonuses at the end of August, Jacques alone losing 3 million euros.

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