Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Top Rio Tinto Executives Lose Bonuses After Aboriginal Site Blasts

A sign sits on a wall near the entrance to the Rio Tinto Plc offices in London, U.K., on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. While the U.K. authorities have abandoned efforts to contain the coronavirus, focusing on delaying the worst of the outbreak, financial-services companies are grappling with policy as several offices cope with health scares. Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Rio Tinto Group will cut bonus payments to CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques by about 2.7 million pounds ($3.5 million) after the destruction of Aboriginal heritage sites in Australia, though offered him the board’s backing to helm the company’s response to the incident.

Rio Tinto Group incentives will also be cut for Chris Salisbury, iron ore unit chief executive officer, and Simone Niven, group executive of corporate relations, following a board-led inquiry launched in June to investigate the incident, the London-based producer said Monday.
Rio Tinto Ltd. CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques Full Year Results Portraits
Jean-Sebastien Jacques

“J-S is doing a very good job, at the moment, and he has the full confidence of the board,” Chairman Simon Thompson said Monday in a phone interview. “He is the right person to be leading our response to the Juukan incident.”

The review found no single individual, or error, was to blame for the blasts in May, when Rio destroyed ancient Indigenous heritage sites to access higher-grade iron ore at a mine site.

Rio has been criticized by investors and lawmakers over the incident, when explosions to open up a mining area for the Brockman 4 operation impacted the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The sites had evidence of use by humans more than 40,000 years ago and were among the most significant of their type in the country, archaeologists had told the company in a 2018 report.

Read more: Rio’s Prize for Blowing Up Ancient History: $135 Million

Three other mining options that would have avoided damaging the sites were rejected in order to access about 8 million tons of high-value ore, Jacques told an Australian Parliamentary committee earlier this month. Rio failed to tell the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation, the region’s traditional land owners, about the options that would’ve prevented any damage, he said.

Jacques has faced a call to resign over the incident from the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, a small shareholder advocacy group, though most major investors have offered support, Thompson said in the interview.

Rio Tinto Group Executives Attend Investor Seminar
Chris Salisbury

“By and large, investors feel that J-S and the team have been doing an extraordinarily great job in very, very difficult circumstances, particularly in 2020,” Thompson said. “They obviously want to see what our response is to Juukan because of the damage that it has done to our reputation for really effective management of cultural heritage.”

Rio’s board-led review identified failures over nearly a decade that had contributed to the incident, including failures of management systems. The company will add a new social performance function to monitor the company’s approach to community and heritage practices and add processes to escalate heritage issues to senior management.


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