11/09/2020 - 08:14

Top Rio execs lose their jobs

11/09/2020 - 08:14

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Rio Tinto has bowed to shareholder pressure over the destruction of Juukan Gorge, announcing this morning that chief executive J-S Jacques and two other senior executives would lose their jobs.

Top Rio execs lose their jobs

Rio Tinto has bowed to shareholder pressure over the destruction of Juukan Gorge, announcing this morning that chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two other senior executives would lose their jobs.

Perth-based iron ore boss Chris Salisbury will step down with immediate effect.

Ivan Vella, currently managing director for Rail, Port & Core Services within Rio Tinto Iron Ore, will replace him on an interim basis, following a handover period.

London-based corporate relations executive Simone Niven will also leave Rio.

The company said Mr Jacques was stepping down by mutual agreement.

He will remain in his role until the appointment of his successor or March 31 2021, whichever is earlier.

London-based Rio has also modified its board structure after being criticised for the limited Australian representation.

“In order to enhance board engagement in Australia, Simon McKeon, non-executive director, is appointed senior independent director, Rio Tinto Limited with immediate effect,” the company said.

“This newly created board role will complement the existing senior independent director role, which will continue to be performed by Sam Laidlaw for Rio Tinto plc.”

Rio said today's changes followed extensive engagement with shareholders, traditional owners, indigenous leaders and other stakeholders over its response to the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves.

"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," the company said.

Chairman Simon Thompson said the company was hoping to move forward.

“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," Mr Thompson said.

"We are also determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other traditional owners.

"We have listened to our stakeholders’ concerns that a lack of individual accountability undermines the group’s ability to rebuild that trust and to move forward to implement the changes identified in the board review.”

PKKP Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the traditional owners, said it had no comment to make about the changes.

“We will continue to work with Rio Tinto in the aftermath of the Juukan Gorge disaster," it said in a statement,

"Our focus continues to rest heavily on preserving Aboriginal heritage and advocating for wide-ranging changes to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.

“We cannot and will not allow this type of devastation to occur ever again.”

Today’s changes come nearly three weeks after Rio said nobody would lose their jobs over the destruction of ancient rock shelters at the gorges, which was against the wishes of the traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, represented by PKKP Aboriginal Corporation.

“It is clear that no single individual or error was responsible,” Mr Thompson said on August 24.

"The review found no single root cause or error that directly resulted in the destruction of the rock shelters," the company added.

"It was the result of a series of decisions, actions and omissions over an extended period of time underpinned by flaws in systems, data sharing, engagement within the company and with the PKKP, and poor decision-making."

Rio's response at the time was to cut the bonuses to be paid to Mr Jacques, Mr Salisbury and Ms Niven.

The Juukan Gorge caves were blown up to pave the way for expansion of Rio’s Pilbara iron ore operations.

The miner has been globally condemned for the destruction and multiple shareholders, institutions and corporate governance groups have called for more accountability.

It has emerged that a significant factor was the downgrading of Rio’s internal community relations function, which had responsibility for indigenous heritage issues.

Rio has recently announced it would strengthen its communities and heritage systems, processes and teams to ensure heritage issues were accorded equivalent priority alongside safety and operational performance.

Meanwhile, BHP has announced plans to establish a Heritage Advisory Council to help it avoid the controversy that has engulfed Rio.

The big miners, and other businesses across WA, have routinely destroyed or damaged Aboriginal heritage sites after gaining ‘section 18’ exemptions from the state government under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

BHP disclosed earlier this year, after the Juukan controversy erupted, that it had approvals to disturb or destroy 40 Aboriginal heritage sites in the path of its giant South Flank mine.

It has put that work on hold.

Similarly, Fortescue Metals Group postponed a section 18 application related to its Eliwana mine so the traditional owners, represented by Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation, had more time to complete heritage surveys.

BHP’s heritage advisory council will be established with the Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation.

It will advise on mine planning at South Flank, which sits on the traditional lands of the Banjima people.

BNTAC chair Maitland Parker said the advisory council would be an important line of communication between Banjima Elders and BHP.

“We want to ensure that we continue to strike the right balance between social and economic benefits and protection of our heritage,” he said.

“We must consider the benefits and impact, not only for the current generation, but also future generations.”

BHP President Minerals Australia Edgar Basto said the council would ensure ongoing high level dialogue on important cultural heritage and other matters. 

“It builds on an already very strong partnership between Banjima and BHP,” Mr Basto said.

 

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