Rio Tinto releases cultural heritage management update

Mining company, Rio Tinto, has published a review of its failure at Juukan Gorge to prevent similar incidents occurring in the future.

On 24 May 2020 activities related to Rio Tinto's development of its Brockman 4 mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia resulted in the destruction of rockshelters (Juukan 1 and Juukan 2) on the land of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP).

Rio Tinto has unreservedly apologised to the PKKP for that destruction and confirmed the destruction of the Juukan rockshelters should not have occurred.

The mining company initiated a review following this incident to examine Rio Tinto's heritage management within its iron ore group to recommend improvements to the effectiveness of its internal processes and governance.

The Board review concluded that while Rio Tinto had obtained legal authority to impact the Juukan rockshelters, it fell short of the Standards and internal guidance that Rio Tinto sets for itself, over and above its legal obligations. The review found no single root cause or error that directly resulted in the destruction of the rockshelters. It was the result of a series of decisions, actions and omissions over an extended period of time, underpinned by flaws in systems, data sharing, engagement within the company and with the PKKP and poor decision-making.

The review detailed a number areas for Rio Tinto to improve, strengthen and amend practices, work culture and governance:

  • Heritage issues are to be accorded equivalent priority alongside safety and operational performance.
  • A new social performance function is to be established – reporting to the Group Executive, HSE, Technical and Projects to ensure community and heritage issues are managed with the same rigour and discipline that applies to health, safety and the environment.
  • More effective internal audits to ensure guideline conformity.
  • Strengthened board oversight and assurance to enhance governance and overall accountability.

The Rio Tinto Board decided that J-S Jacques, Chief Executive; Chris Salisbury, Chief Executive of Iron Ore; and Simone Niven, Group Executive, Corporate Relations, will not receive a performance-related bonus for 2020 under the company’s Short-Term Incentive Plan (STIP). In addition, J-S’s 2016 Long-Term Incentive Plan (LTIP) award, that is due to vest in the first half of 2021, will be reduced by £1 million (subject to vesting). The rationale for this decision is outlined in the Addendum to the review.

“While the review provides a clear framework for change, it is important to emphasise that this is the start of a process, not the end,” said Rio Tinto Chairman, Simon Thompson.

“We will implement important new measures and governance to ensure we do not repeat what happened at Juukan Gorge and we will continue our work to rebuild trust with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

“We fully recognise traditional owners must be treated as equal partners which includes regular, open and respectful dialogue. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the PKKP on a joint initiative to learn the lessons from Juukan and to strengthen our partnership.

“It is clear that no single individual or error was responsible for the destruction of the Juukan rockshelters but there were numerous missed opportunities over almost a decade and the company failed to uphold one of Rio Tinto’s core values – respect for local communities and for their heritage.

“We are determined to learn, improve and rebuild trust across various internal and external partners. I look forward to working with J-S, Chris and Simone to drive change and improvements in order to re-establish Rio Tinto’s credentials and strengthen heritage management across the business,” he said.

The review findings complement and continue to inform Rio Tinto’s ongoing cooperation with the Inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia. Rio Tinto also continues to support the West Australian Government’s planned reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA).

The broad context of the review, according to Rio Tinto, relates to modern mining operations on Australia which has been home to Indigenous people (the First Australians) for tens of thousands of years. The Traditional Owners have unique connections to country that must be valued and respected which is why Rio Tinto has a special responsibility to work with Traditional Owners and Indigenous communities in protecting sites of cultural, spiritual, ethnological and archaeological significance or mitigating impacts on them when they occur.

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