Some of Australia’s biggest super funds have warned that businesses failing to lift their game in the aftermath of the Juukan Gorge debacle are tempting fate.
The joint standing committee on Northern Australia’s interim report on Juukan Gorge recommended that Rio Tinto pay restitution to the traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples, and that a moratorium be placed on mining operations across the Juukan Gorge area following Rio’s destruction of 46,000-year-old rock shelters.
“Rio Tinto’s role in this tragedy is inexcusable. Rio knew the value of what they were destroying but blew it up anyway. It pursued the option of destroying the shelters despite having options which would have preserved them… The evidence presented to the Committee raises significant issues about the culture and practices inside Rio Tinto and highlights a need for the internal reform of the company,” the report read.
The recommendations have been welcomed by the powerful Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), which played a significant role in the departure of chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques.
“There is no doubt that this tragedy has resulted in a substantial loss of cultural heritage for First Nations Australians and the broader community…The report has also highlighted the material risks for investors. Long-term investors support structural and cultural changes to the way companies approach their relationships with First Nations stakeholders,” said ACSI CEO Louise Davidson.
Meanwhile, $56 billion industry fund HESTA said that the report’s recommendations highlighted the financial costs arising from damage to a “company’s social licence to operate”.
“The inescapable findings of the inquiry are that Aboriginal Heritage sites remain vulnerable to destruction. It would be unacceptable to investors that boards of mining companies are not actively and transparently seeking to understand their exposure to this risk,” said CEO Debby Blakey.
“After all that has occurred at Rio, the boards of mining companies need to show investors that they have appropriate oversight and effective governance frameworks in place to ensure respectful, fair and ongoing engagement with Traditional Owners.”
One of the peak superannuation bodies has claimed that industry funds have “significantly outperformed” their retail counterparts and ca...