Rio Tinto is parting ways with its CEO and two senior executives, bowing to mounting shareholder criticism of the destruction of two significant Aboriginal rock shelters and therefore the global miner’s limited initial response.
Chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques, who has led Rio since 2016, will step down by March 31 next year, the corporate said on Friday, after shareholders expressed concerns about executive accountability.
The head of ore , Chris Salisbury, and Simone Niven, head of corporate relations, the unit liable for handling Indigenous communities, also will depart.
The move came after activists and investors said Rio had not done enough in an earlier board-led review into how the miner legally detonated rock shelters showing 46,000 years of human habitation at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia against the needs of traditional owners. The review had cut short-term bonuses for a few executives.
“Despite a drawn-out process, we feel the Board has listened to investors and other stakeholders and brought appropriate steps to make sure executive accountability for the systemic failures that led to the disaster at Juukan Gorge,” The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors said during a statement.
Brynn O’Brien, executive of activist investor the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility said the choice “should be a warning call for the Australian ore sector and mining companies worldwide on their relationships with First Nations people”.
Jacques last month apologised at an Australian Senate inquiry into the destruction that was against the needs of Aboriginal traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti, Kurrama and Pinikura people, saying there was little question the corporate could have made better decisions.
The cave blasts, which enabled Rio to access $135m of high-grade ore , drew international condemnation and damaged Rio’s reputation for handling Indigenous groups in its worldwide operations.
“What happened at Juukan was wrong and that we are determined to make sure that the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation,” Rio chairman Simon Thompson said on Friday.
The National Native Title Council, representing Traditional Owners, welcomed the choice after calling on the corporate for large-scale cultural change, but warned that the chief changes were only a “crucial first step”.
Australia’s Senate has yet to finish its inquiry, which is watching how the location came to be destroyed, the processes that did not protect it, the consequences on Traditional Owners, and therefore the legislative changes required to stop such incidents from recurring.
Western Australian state laws that approved the destruction also are being revised.