Rio Tinto chairman to stand down amid outcry over cave blasts

Destruction of Aboriginal site continues to take toll on miner’s top ranks

Protesters rally outside the Rio Tinto office in Perth. Photograph: Richard Wainwright/AAP Image/ via AP

Protesters rally outside the Rio Tinto office in Perth. Photograph: Richard Wainwright/AAP Image/ via AP

 

Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson will step down within the next year in response to the outcry over the mining company’s destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous site in Western Australia last year.

The Anglo-Australian group said on Wednesday that Mr Thompson would not seek re-election at the company’s annual meeting in 2022, and that it would begin a search for a successor.

Mr Thompson’s decision to stand aside follows a storm of criticism over the board’s initial decision not to fire any executives after two ancient rock shelters at Juukan Gorge were blown up in May 2020 – an event that provoked a global backlash against Rio.

Pressure from Australian pension funds and other investors eventually forced the resignations of then Rio chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques and two other senior executives in September last year.

However, Rio’s disclosure last month that Mr Jacques was awarded a 20 per cent pay rise in 2020 despite the cave blasts drew renewed accusations of a lack of accountability at the group.

By deciding not to seek re-election, Thompson is hoping to draw a line under the questions about board accountability for the blasts ahead of this year’s annual meeting and focus on repairing Rio’s damaged relationship with indigenous groups, according to people with knowledge of the situation. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021