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Rio Tinto CEO resigns following reaction to Aboriginal destruction



Jean-Sebastian Jacques, the chief executive of Rio Tinto, will resign by the end of March after failing to control the debris from the demolition of an ancient Aboriginal site in Western Australia, the miner said on Friday.

Two other senior executives – Chris Salisbury, the iron ore chief, and corporate affairs chief Simone Niven, who was in charge of local affairs – will also leave Rio as the miner tries to limit investor reaction to his decision to destroy 46,000 – one-year site.

Simon Thompson, chairman of Rio Tinto, said Mr Jacques had agreed to step down as chief executive by mutual agreement and was in the process of appointing a successor. The French-born leader will remain in office until a successor is appointed or leave until March 31

, he added.

“What happened in Juukan was wrong and we are determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance will never happen again during an operation in Rio Tinto. We are also determined to regain the trust of the people of Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura and other traditional owners, “said Mr Thompson.

“We have heard stakeholders’ concerns that the lack of individual accountability is undermining the group’s ability to restore that confidence and move forward to implement the changes identified in the board’s review,” he added.

Rio demolishes 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia to expand iron ore mine © HANDOUT / PKKP Aboriginal Corporation / AFP via Getty Images

Mr Salisbury will leave the post of head of iron ore with immediate effect and will leave Rio by 31 December. Ivan Vela, managing director of railway, port and basic services, will take over the interim post.

Ms. Niven will leave the group by the end of the year, and a new social representation function led by Mark Davis, another CEO of Rio, will oversee communities and heritage.

Rio is trying to limit the damage after destroying two sacred aboriginal shelters in the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in May to expand an iron ore mine. Its flagship iron ore operation, which generates more than 90 percent of the company’s profits, is based in the area.

Rio received legal permission to demolish the site in 2013, but was severely criticized for not changing its plan when the archaeological significance of the rock shelters became clear.

Some experts liken the destruction of the site to the type of cultural vandalism practiced by the Taliban.

Rio initially claimed the incident was a “misunderstanding”, assuming it had not been informed of the site’s cultural significance by traditional landowners in time to prevent the blasts.

Mr Jacques made his first public comments about the demolition just two weeks later. Speaking to a parliamentary inquiry last month, Jacques said he was unaware of the importance of the caves before they were blown up.

The initial response to the crisis affected Rio’s reputation as a leader in indigenous affairs and was shattered by large Australian pension funds and some small British investors.

After reviewing the events leading up to the explosions, the board deducted a total of £ 4 million in bonuses from Mr Jacques, Mr Salisbury and Ms Niven, but insisted they were the right people to react to the company. incident.

Accr, an investor protection group, said Rio’s resignations were an important moment in shareholder activism. They demonstrate that investors will not accept corporate misinformation and disrespect for cultural sites, the statement said.

“Shareholder democracy and investor action are alive and well in Australia. Corporate captains may think twice before trying to mislead investors, let alone a parliamentary inquiry, into the future, ”said James Fitzgerald, Accr’s legal counsel.

In an effort to strengthen engagement on the Rio board in Australia, Simon McKeon, the non-executive director, has been appointed to the newly created position of senior independent director.

Without an obvious domestic successor, Rio is likely to look outside the company for its next chief executive, who will have to mend relations with indigenous Australia, as well as address important strategic issues such as its dependence on iron ore.

Under Mr. Jacques Rio, he sold assets, returned huge sums of money to shareholders and became the first large mining company to emerge from thermal coal polluting fossil fuels.

However, analysts say his biggest achievement has been avoiding the big transformation deals that have hampered Rio in the past.


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