Rio Tinto’s Chief Executive and two other high-ranking executives have stepped down amid the aftermath of the mining giant’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves.
Rio Tinto Group CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques, Rio Tinto Chief Executive Iron Ore, Chris Salisbury and Corporate Relations Group Executive, Simone Niven are all stepping down in response to shareholder pressures for executive accountability.
While Salisbury and Niven will immediately step down and exit the company by year’s end, Jacques will remain Chief Executive until March 31 or until his successor has been appointed—whichever happens first.
In a statement, Rio Tinto said non-executive Director, Simon McKeon, has been appointed to the newly created Senior Independent Director role in Rio Tinto limited “with immediate effect”.
“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 [public limited company],” the statement read.
Rio Tinto Chair, Simon Thompson, said the mining group is “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”.
“We are also determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura [PKKP] people and other Traditional Owners,” he said.
“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.”
The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia has welcomed the dismissals, with Committee Chair Warren Entsch saying the need for high-level accountability had become obvious to Rio Tinto stakeholders.
“The evidence received by the Committee has made clear that the internal culture at Rio Tinto was a significant factor in the destruction of these sites,” Entsch said.
“New leadership, new structures and new operating principles within the company are essential to preventing such catastrophes in the future.”
As the Senate inquiry into the Juukan Gorge cave blasts continues, the PKKP peoples have said they are disappointed in the Senate’s choice to indefinitely defer their visit to the Pilbara.
The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia announced on Wednesday it would postpone its scheduled trip to the region due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
PKKP Aboriginal Corporation Chair, John Ashburton, said Traditional Owners are “extremely disappointed” with the move.
“This decision serves to rob us of a voice in the proceedings. To date, Rio Tinto and others have been given a voice and public stage to present their views on the disaster. The same courtesy has been denied to us by this delay.”
Acknowledging the travel restrictions are not the Committee’s fault, the corporation believes special allowances should be made for travel due the “great national and global importance” of the inquiry.
“Prolonging this investigation only serves to further deepen our hurt and anguish about the irretrievable loss of connection to our ancestors and our country,” Ashburton said.
“The community deserves the full facts of the Juukan Gorge disaster be told in a timely manner to ensure this kind of tragedy never happens again.”
The Senate inquiry will end September 30, with the Committee to deliver their report thereafter.
By Hannah Cross