Rio CEO steps down over cave destruction
Rio Tinto has succumbed to the pressures of a shareholder revolt over its controversial decision to destroy indigenous heritage sites in Western Australia, with its chief executive and two other top corporates stepping down.
In an announcement to the Australian Stock Exchange on Friday, Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said he would step down from the top position as a result of the major miner's bungled handling over the Juukan Gorge scandal.
In May, Rio Tinto blew up caves in the WA Pilbara region that had significant importance to traditional landowners.
It was revealed indigenous group's were not properly consulted about the impacts to the sites.
The West Australian government had given Rio Tinto the green light to expand its mining operations in the region, which led to the detonation of the sites.
The company's chief executive of iron ore, Chris Salisbury and head of corporate relations, Simone Niven, will also leave the mining group by December 31.
Mr Jacques will remain as CEO of the mining group until at least March 31, 2021.
"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," Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said.
"We are also determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other Traditional Owners."
Rio Tinto said it was in the process in identifying a new chief executive.
The company has appointed Simon McKeon as its new senior independent director, which it says is to enhance board engagement in Australia.
Rio Tinto has always been criticised its board is too London centric.
A Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia is currently investigating the destruction of the two ancient caves, however the inquiry has been deferred due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
On Thursday, traditional landowner said they feel "robbed of a voice" following the indefinite deferral of a parliamentary inquiry.
In statement from the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people said they were extremely disappointed, distressed and frustrated by the delay, as Rio Tinto and others had already had an opportunity to speak with the inquiry.
"This decision serves to rob us of a voice in the proceedings," PKKP Aboriginal Corporation chair John Ashburton said.
"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."
Originally published as Rio CEO steps down over cave destruction