Rio Tinto may need to tap outsider for new chief

Daniel Fowler
September 13, 2020

Jacques will remain in his role until the end of March next year, or a successor is appointed, Rio said Friday in a statement.

Last month, Rio Tinto announced that the three executives would lose a combined $5 million from their bonuses over the destruction of the caves.

Indigenous rights activists said the move by Rio Tinto, which came after months of pressure from investors, politicians, environmental groups and Indigenous leaders, represented "a milestone in Australia's resources history".

Western Australian laws that approved the destruction are also being reviewed.

Artefacts found at the caves include a 28,000-year-old animal bone tool and a 4,000-year-old belt made of plaited human hair.

Jean-Sebastien Jacques, who has led Rio Tinto since 2016, will step down from his post as executive director and chief executive.

Two other executives are also departing: Chris Salisbury, head of the iron ore business, and Simone Niven, group executive for corporate relations.

"We are determined to ensure that the destruction of the site of such outstanding archaeological and cultural significance will never happen again in Operation Rio Tinto", Thompson added.

The caves had shown evidence of continuous human habitation dating back 46,000 years and sat above about eight million tonnes of high-grade iron ore, with an estimated value of £75m.

The CEO of Rio Tinto (RIO.L) is to leave his post "by mutual agreement" over the destruction of an Indigenous heritage site in Western Australia.

Rio Tinto CEO goes in wake of ancient site destruction

The stock of the company was down to 1% in the region of Sydney on Friday.

Rio Tinto is establishing a new "Social Performance assurance" function to "strengthen oversight of communities and heritage practices and performance" within its operations.

"Zoe has the relevant mining background, worldwide management experience, government relationships, acute sensitivity to indigenous and remote community engagement, and strong Australian roots", said one analyst, who declined to be named as he does not cover Rio.

"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.

The board-led review found Rio Tinto had obtained legal authority to blast the sites but doing so "fell short of the standards and internal guidance that Rio Tinto sets for itself".

Chief Executive Ian Silk said the fund was "satisfied that appropriate responsibility has now been taken by executives at Rio Tinto", although nothing could "undo the destruction of the profoundly cultural significant sites in the Juukan Gorge, and the impact on the traditional owners of the land, the PKKP people".

"While there is general recognition of the transparency of the Board Review and support for the changes recommended, significant stakeholders have expressed concerns about executive accountability for the failings identified", Rio Tinto said in a statement.

"There needs to be a consistent theme of them showing that they are conscious of Aboriginal cultural heritage and its protection", Lowe said of mining companies.

The shelters held extreme significance for the area's indigenous owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people. The chairman also said that nothing like this sort will ever happen again in the company.

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