Rio Tinto CEO steps down after destruction of Juukan Gorge

Juukhan-Gorge-After-Blast

Image: PKKP Aboriginal Corporation/AFP/Getty Images

Rio Tinto’s CEO, Jean-Sébastien Jacques, will be stepping down from his role by March 31, 2021, after a recent board review into the company’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia.

In May of 2020, the mining giant proceeded to blast two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters located in the Pilbara in order to access $135 million worth of iron ore.

Although Rio Tinto acted within their legal right, the destruction of the sacred site on the Sunday before National Reconciliation Week went against the will of the land’s traditional owners - the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

During the Board Review of Cultural Heritage Management, Rio Tinto engaged with Traditional Owners, Indigenous leaders, shareholders and other significant stakeholders who expressed concerns over the lack of executive accountability for the actions taken back in May.

Along with the CEO’s resignation, Rio Tinto’s chief executive for iron ore, Chris Sailsbury will also be stepping down as well as group executive for corporate relations, Simone Niven.

Rio Tinto chairman, Simon Thompson has said that the shuffle in the company’s executive team was made in an effort to rebuild trust with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

“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 determined to learn the lessons from Juukan and to re-establish our reputation as a leader in communities and heritage management,” Thompson said.

With the step down of Rio Tinto’s chief executive officer, Australian treasurer, Josh Frydenberg has asked the company to consider appointing an Australian CEO.

“Rio Tinto is one of the great companies of the world with a proud Australian history…With the vast majority of its revenue coming from Australia, it would be fitting to once again see an Australian as chief executive along with the majority of the board.”

This push from Canberra comes as the Australian government is tightening foreign investment regulations and planning the nation’s economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

Source: Rio Tinto Media Release

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