Thirty-five First Nations organisations have called on the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) to strip Rio Tinto of its standing as a global human rights leader after the deliberate destruction of culturally significant cave shelters in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

In an open letter to the CHRB on Wednesday, the 35 organisations urged the Benchmark to “take immediate steps to suspend Rio Tinto and remove its scores from the benchmark”.

On May 24, Rio Tinto destroyed two culturally significant rock shelters of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people, wiping out history that pre-dated the last Ice Age. The caves held evidence of the PKKP people’s continuous occupation of the area for millennia.

Although Rio Tinto faced national and international criticism for the blasts—including from some of their largest investors—the company remains listed with the CHRB as the highest ranked extractives company internationally on human rights issues, with a score in the second-highest possible band.

The CHRB is a Netherlands-based organisation that annually assesses 200 of the world’s largest publicly-traded companies.

Based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the CHRB uses a set of 100 indicators to measure a company’s responsible human rights and business conduct.

The open letter calls out Rio Tinto’s ranking, saying it is “misleading to investors and other stakeholders” who rely on the Benchmark to provide credible information on companies’ human rights records.

One of the signatories, Kimberley Land Council CEO, Nolan Hunter, said Rio Tinto’s actions showed “a total lack of regard for their obligations to the PKKP people and their human rights obligations as an international company operating in Australia”.

“For Rio Tinto to claim the blast was a ‘misunderstanding’ is highly insulting to the Traditional Owners, and to all Aboriginal people who have fought so hard for rights over their land,” Hunter said.

Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, Keren Adams, said the mining company’s actions at Juukan Gorge were symptomatic of a broader culture of disregard for the cultural heritage and rights of communities.

“In the past few years, Rio Tinto has been the subject of serious human rights complaints by communities impacted by its operations in a number of different countries,” Adams said.

“Rio Tinto must properly acknowledge and address its impacts on communities if it is to have any hope of resurrecting its reputation as a human rights leader.”

Adams said Rio Tinto’s high ranking by the CHRB demonstrated the need for a rethink of how human rights violations are treated by the Benchmark.

The letter, addressed to Executive Director of the World Benchmarking Alliance, Gerbrand Haverkamp, also copies in Camille Le Pors, CHRB Lead, Rio Tinto Chair, Simon Thompson, and Rio Tinto Group CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques.

Read the letter below:

By Hannah Cross