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Rio Tinto CEO to depart after shareholders demand action over Australia cave blast

  • Melanie Burton

    Reuters

Melbourne, Australia   /   Fri, September 11, 2020   /   10:17 am
Rio Tinto CEO to depart after shareholders demand action over Australia cave blast This handout photo taken on May 15, 2020 and released by the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation and recieved by AFP on May 27, 2020 shows Juukan Gorge in Western Australia -- one of the earliest known sites occupied by Aboriginals in Australia. - Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has admitted damaging ancient Aboriginal rock shelters in the remote Pilbara region -- blasting near the 46,000-year-old heritage site to expand an iron ore mine. (Handout/PKKP Aboriginal Corporation/AFP/-)

Miner Rio Tinto said on Friday its chief executive and two senior executives will step down amid mounting shareholder criticism of its destruction of historically significant Aboriginal rockshelters and the way it managed its response.

A process to identify a successor to CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques was under way and he will continue in the role until a replacement is found or March 31 next year, whichever is earlier, the company said.

Chris Salisbury will step down as chief executive of the iron ore division with immediate effect and leave Rio Tinto on Dec. 31, while Simone Niven would step down as group executive of corporate relations.

Rio Tinto investors had voiced dissatisfaction with the findings of a board-led review into how the iron ore miner legally detonated the rockshelters in Western Australia, which had resulted in cuts to executive bonuses.

“This situation has demonstrated beyond doubt the importance of companies’ boards and executives protecting their social licence,” said executive director Brynn O’Brien of activist investor the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility.

“It should be a wake up call for the Australian iron ore sector and mining companies worldwide on their relationships with First Nations people.”

Rio shares traded down 0.5 percent in morning trade at A$99.95, in line with a 0.7 percent fall in the broader market.

CEO Jacques had apologised at an Australian Senate enquiry for the destruction that was against the wishes of Aboriginal traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti, Kurrama and Pinikura people, saying there was no doubt the company could have made better decisions.

After a board-led review of the legal destruction of the sacred sites in May for a mine expansion, Rio cut the short-term bonuses of some senior officials, including its chief executive, but activists and investors have said this was not enough.

The inquiry is looking at how the culturally significant site came to be destroyed, the processes that failed to protect it, the impacts on Traditional Owners, and the legislative changes required to prevent such incidents from recurring.