Rio Tinto CEO Resigns After Archaeological Devastation Outcry

    Stockholm (NordSIP) – On 11 September, Rio Tinto announced that CEO Jean-Sébastien Dominique Francois Jacques (J-S) would step down following the destruction of the Juukan Gorge Cave site the Pilbara region of Western Australia in May.

    The site showed unique signs of continuous human occupation over the last 46,000 years and was of cultural significance to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura native peoples of Australia. “We pay our respects to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP), and we are sorry for the distress we have caused,” Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury, commented on the occasion of the disaster.

    Following investor outcry, the mining company published an internal investigation on the matter. The report concluded “that while Rio Tinto had obtained legal authority to impact the Juukan rockshelters, it fell short of the Standards and internal guidance that Rio Tinto sets for itself, over and above its legal obligations. The review found no single root cause or error that directly resulted in the destruction of the rockshelters. It was the result of a series of decisions, actions and omissions over an extended period of time, underpinned by flaws in systems, data sharing, engagement within the company and with the PKKP, and poor decision-making.”

    The CEO’s departure is a direct result of the enquiry and reflects the need to display transparency and accountability on the part of the mining company. He will remain in his role until the appointment of his successor or 31 March 2021, whichever is earlier. “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. 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.”

    “I would like to thank J-S for his strong leadership of the Group since becoming Chief Executive in 2016. During that time, he has led the best safety performance in Rio Tinto’s history, simplified the portfolio, divested the Group’s coal assets, established a clear strategy to address climate change and generated exceptional shareholder returns. His leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has been exemplary.”

    “Rio Tinto is a financially and operationally robust business with world-class assets, a clear strategy and outstanding people. We are determined to learn the lessons from Juukan and to re-establish our reputation as a leader in communities and heritage management.”

    Others were less impressed. According to an article by the BBC, Tom Stevenson, investment director at Fidelity International, said Rio Tinto’s actions had been “slow and misguided”, noting that they failed to act in time despite being aware of the danger.

    Image of Pilbara landscape, Australia © Rio Tinto

    Filipe Albuquerque
    Filipe Albuquerque
    Filipe is an economist with 8 years of experience in macroeconomic and financial analysis for the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UN World Institute for Development Economic Research, the Stockholm School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Filipe holds a MSc in European Political Economy from the LSE and a MSc in Economics from the University of London, where he currently is a PhD candidate.

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