Investors have delivered a hefty blow to mining giant Rio Tinto this week after voting against bonuses for top executives in protest of the Juukan Gorge disaster of 2020.
Sixty-one per cent of shareholders voted against the miner’s remuneration report in Perth on Thursday, which gave former chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques a 20 per cent pay rise plus payment of his long-term bonuses despite the events at Juukan Gorge.
It was Rio Tinto’s first shareholder meeting in the country since they deliberately blew up the 46,000-year-old cave sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurama Pinikura peoples.
Investor adviser groups including the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, CGI Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholders Services all recommended Rio Tinto investors vote against the remuneration report.
“We have severe reservations with the size of the awards vesting for former chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques under his 2016 long-term incentive plan in light of the events in the Juukan Gorge in the past fiscal year,” CGI said in its report on the matter.
“As such, we are unable to recommend shareholders support this proposal.”
Despite the significant investor revolt, the vote was a non-binding advisory vote, meaning there will be no change to the sums given to the Rio Tinto executives. It’s understood Rio Tinto cannot legally deny pay to the departing executives.
Jacques and two other top executives, iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury and corporate relations chief Simone Niven, were forced to step down last year after the now infamous incident, and Chair Simon Thompson has announced he will not stand for re-election in 2022.
The destruction of Juukan Gorge triggered a federal parliamentary inquiry, huge public backlash, and a permanent moratorium on mining in the area from Rio Tinto.
It also saw the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) thrust into the spotlight, with former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt introducing a draft Bill to overhaul the Act last year. But many Aboriginal leaders in the WA Indigenous community are dissatisfied with the Bill.
The State is yet to take action on the cultural heritage Bill since the McGowan Government was re-elected in March.
By Hannah Cross