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Rio Tinto Head Resigns Following Destruction of Sacred Indigenous Site
Jean-Sébastien Jacques is stepping down under pressure from investors after the company destroyed prehistoric caves sacred to two Australian Aboriginal groups.
Melbourne, Australia—Rio Tinto’s executive director and chief executive will step down under pressure from investors following the company’s destruction of a sacred indigenous site to access iron ore this past spring.
The mining company said Friday that Jean-Sébastien Jacques will leave at the end of March 2021 or when his replacement is found, whichever comes first.
Also exiting are the chief executive of the mining company’s iron ore business, Chris Salisbury, who will leave Rio Tinto on Dec. 31, and Simone Niven, who steps down as group executive, corporate relations, also at the end of the year.
Rio Tinto blew up prehistoric rock shelters sacred to two Australian Aboriginal groups—the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people—in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia in May in order to get to the iron ore underneath.
The caves were culturally and archeologically important sites that contained signs of human habitation stretching back as far as 45,000 years. The New York Times reported that a 28,000-year-old kangaroo bone sharpened into a blade and a 4,000-year-old plait of human hair were among the artifacts found in the ancient shelters.
The company destroyed the caves against the objections of leaders of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, who waged a years-long battle to preserve the site, and has been under fire from Indigenous leaders, investors, environmentalists, and politicians ever since.
Rio Tinto announced last month it would dock the three executives’ bonuses, but investors argued that was not enough and pushed for the ousting of those responsible.
In the statement issued Friday announcing the resignations, Rio Tinto Chairman Simon Thompson said: “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.
“We are also determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other traditional owners. We have listened to our stakeholders’ concerns that a lack of individual accountability undermines the group’s ability to rebuild that trust and to move forward to implement the changes identified in the board review.”
Ivan Vella, currently Rio Tinto’s managing director for Rail, Port & Core Services, will replace Salisbury as head of the iron ore business on an interim basis.
The company is also, as previously announced, establishing a new “Social Performance” assurance arm to strengthen oversight of
Also, Rio Tinto has appointed Simon McKeon, currently a non-executive director, as a senior independent director in order to increase board engagement in Australia.
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