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Rio Tinto CEO loses bonus over Indigenous Australian cave destruction

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
A Rio Tinto excavator in Pilbara, western Australia, the region where a historic cave heritage site has been destroyed. Photo: Rio Tinto
An excavator at a Rio Tinto site in Pilbara, western Australia, the region where a historic cave heritage site has been destroyed. Photo: Rio Tinto

The chief executive of Rio Tinto (RIO.L) will lose his performance-linked bonus this year over the destruction of an Indigenous heritage site in Western Australia, according to the company.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) mining giant faces a parliamentary inquiry in Australia over the caves, an important site for the Puutu, Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples. The caves showed evidence of continued inhabitation for 46,000 years.

The Anglo-Australian company published the findings on Monday of its board’s own review into the damage caused by the expansion of an iron ore mine at Juukan Gorge, in the Pilbara region.

The review found some of Rio Tinto’s systems, decision-making processes and governance “failed to work as they should have.”

The company said there had been no single root cause or error that directly led to the site being blown up. “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.”

READ MORE: Traditional owners say Rio Tinto knew the importance of caves

Jean-Sebastien Jacques, chief executive of Rio Tinto since 2016, as well as the chief executives of its iron ore and corporate relations will not receive their performance-related bonuses this year under its short-term incentive plan. A 2016 award Jacques had been due to receive next year under its long-term incentive plan will also be reduced by £1m ($1.3m).

“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,” said Simon Thompson, chairman of Rio Tinto.

“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.”

Pilbara, the region of western Australia where Rio Tinto iron more expansion led to the destruction of an historic Indigenous Australian heritage site. Photo: Rio Tinto
Pilbara, the region of western Australia where Rio Tinto iron more expansion led to the destruction of an historic Indigenous Australian heritage site. Photo: Rio Tinto

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The company has previously pledged $50m to recruit and retain more Indigenous staff in the aftermath of the destruction, saying it did not have enough in leadership roles.

The review said the company should also strengthen its processes, oversight and auditing to ensure heritage issues receive “equivalent priority” to safety and operational performance.