Rio Tinto CEO loses millions for destruction of indigenous site

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Sydney (AFP)

Mining giant Rio Tinto stripped its CEO of $ 3.5 million on Monday after the company destroyed a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site to expand an iron ore mine in Australia.

The Anglo-Australian company blew up rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia on May 24, destroying one of the first known sites occupied by Australia’s indigenous peoples.

Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques will lose 2.7 million pounds ($ 3.5 million) in performance bonuses as a result of the incident, the company said Monday after a high-level review.

Iron ore division head Chris Salisbury and corporate relations manager Simone Niven will also lose US $ 792,000 and US $ 687,000 respectively.

The board review found that Rio Tinto had obtained legal permission to blow up the sites, but in doing so “fell short of the internal standards and guidelines that Rio Tinto had set for itself.”

He concluded that “no root cause or error” directly led to the destruction, but rather “the result of a series of decisions, actions and omissions over a long period”.

Rio Tinto president Simon Thompson said there had been “many missed opportunities for nearly a decade” and the company had failed to respect local communities and their heritage.

“While the review provides a clear framework for change, it is important to stress that this is the start of a process, not the end,” he said.

“We will be implementing important new measures and governance to make sure we do not repeat what happened at Juukan Gorge. ”

Thompson said the company will work to restore trust with the indigenous communities of Pinikura and Puutu Kunti Kurrama (PKKP), who are the traditional owners of the area.

Rio Tinto initially defended its blasting in the Juukan Gorge as authorized under a 2013 agreement with the state government.

But moving protests from indigenous leaders, who said they were only told of the planned explosion when it was too late to prevent it, led the company to issue an apology.

The cultural significance of the Juukan Gorge was confirmed by an archaeological excavation carried out in one of the rock shelters a year after Rio Tinto was granted permission to explode in the area.

Excavations uncovered the earliest known example of bone tools in Australia – a sharp kangaroo bone dating back 28,000 years – and a braided hair belt that DNA tests linked to indigenous people still living in the area.

The state government of Western Australia is reviewing laws governing mining operations near Indigenous heritage sites.

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