Rio Tinto bosses quit amid backlash over blasting of historic Australian Aboriginal site
By Annika Burgess
Sydney - The CEO of mining giant Rio Tinto and two senior executives are stepping down over backlash of the company's decision to blast 46 000-year-old Aboriginal heritage sites in Western Australia's Pilbara region.
The "mutual agreement" made for CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques to resign was "undertaken in response to the destruction of the Juukan rockshelters in May 2020," Rio Tinto said in a statement published Friday.
Jacques will stay on until March 2021 or until a successor is found.
Iron ore head Chris Salisbury and corporate affairs chief Simone Niven will also step down. They will leave at the end of December.
Pressure had been mounting for months for Rio Tinto to sack the executives after the rock shelters were destroyed to make way for a mining operation. The structures were highly significant to the area's traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people.
"What happened at Juukan was wrong," Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said in Friday's statememnt. "We are also determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other Traditional Owners."
Rio Tinto admitted in a submission to a senate inquiry in August it had three other options to expand its iron ore mine that could have avoided the destruction of cultural heritage at Juukan Gorge.
One of the two sacred sites blasted provided a 4,000-year-old genetic link to present-day traditional owners and was the only inland site in Australia to show signs of continual human occupation through the last ice age, the Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation has said.
The Australian government had given the mining company permission to blast or damage the area in 2013.
But in 2014, an archaeologist had found several artefacts believed to be the earliest use of grinding and pounding technology in Western Australia.
The three executives had their bonuses cut last month after a Rio Tinto board review.
The board review had "found no single root cause or error that directly resulted in the destruction of the rockshelters."
But on Friday Thompson said the company had "listened to our stakeholders' concerns" over the individual accountability.
"I think we are all in agreeance that the initial measures doled out by the Rio board in cutting executive bonuses did not go far enough," Jamie Lowe from the National Native Title Council (NNTC) said in a statement.
"Several million dollars in lost income is a drop in the ocean for these individuals, whose governance failings and calculated decisions robbed Australia and Traditional Owners of a world heritage significant site."
He said the NNTC welcomed Rio's actions to remove the executives, but warned this was only the first step to ensure such a disaster does not happen again.
"We do fear that if this is the behaviour of a company thought to have sector-leading standards, what is the risk another Juukan Gorge-type incident will happen again, without sector-wide reforms?"
Lowe called for "the legislation of best practice national standards for the management and protection of cultural heritage at the federal level," saying Australia is currently lacking strong federal cultural heritage laws.
## Note to editors - Adds details extra detail on resignations; quotes from NNTC
## Internet links - [Rio Tinto statement on resignations](http://dpaq.de/IpKol) - [Rio Tinto board review statement](http://dpaq.de/AXcID)
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## Editorial contacts - Reporting by: Annika Burgess in Sydney - Editing by: Madeleine Wedesweiler,
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