The Juukan Gorge debacle has claimed the scalps of a number of Rio Tinto’s key executives.
Rio Tinto CEO J-S Jacques will step down from his role as executive director and CEO. Mr Jacques will remain in his role until the appointment of his successor or 31 March 2021 in order to ensure business continuity.
Chris Salisbury will also step down as chief executive, iron ore, while Simone Niven will step down as group executive for corporate relations. All three of the executives were implicated in the decisions that led to the destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site at Juukan Gorge. All three will retain their long term incentive awards, while losing out on the $7 million in bonuses already announced.
“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,” said chairman Simon Thompson.
“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.”
Mr Thompson also thanked the other departing executives. Mr Salisbury will be replaced on an interim basis by Ivan Vella, managing director for rail, port and core services within Rio Tinto iron ore. Rio Tinto will also establish a new social performance assurance function, reporting to Mark Davies, group executive for HSE, technical and projects, to strengthen oversight of communities and heritage practices.
In order to enhance board engagement in Australia, non-executive director Simon McKeon has been appointed senior independent director.
The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) – which had previously called for heads to roll in the C-suite – said that the changes were a step in the right direction.
“Despite a drawn-out process, we feel the board has listened to investors and other stakeholders and taken appropriate steps to ensure executive accountability for the systemic failures that led to the disaster at Juukan Gorge,” said ACSI CEO Louise Davidson.
“Rio Tinto now has the opportunity to address the necessary remediation, cultural heritage and risk processes with fresh eyes. Rio Tinto must prioritise working with traditional owners the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people to rebuild their relationship. It is critical that this is not delayed.”
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