Rio Tinto chief Jean-Sebastian Jacques abandons tribal cave destruction

Image copyrightScott Barbour / Getty Images

image CaptionJean-Sebastian Jacques has been the chief executive of Rio Tinto since 2016

Rio Tinto’s boss, Jean-Sebastian Jacques, will step down after criticizing the mining giant’s destruction of sacred tribal sites.

In May, the world’s largest iron ore miner destroyed two ancient caves in Pilbara, Western Australia.

The company went ahead with blowing up the Juan Gorge Rock Shelter despite opposition from tribal traditional owners.

It has drawn widespread condemnation from shareholders and the public.

  • Church of England attacked miner for tribal blasts

  • Rio owners have lost bonuses on indigenous site destruction

On Friday, the company said in a statement that “key stakeholders have expressed concern about executive accountability for the identified failures”.

The board said Mr. Jacques would remain as chief executive until March, or until a successor was appointed.

Other senior officials, including the head of the miner’s iron ore and corporate relations divisions, will also leave the company at the end of the year.

The caves – seen as one of Australia’s most important archaeological research sites – showed evidence of continued human habitation for over 46,000 years.

They sat above about eight million tons of high-grade iron ore with an estimated value of around £ 75 million.

Image copyrightAFP

image CaptionJucan Gorge Cave Site Visited Before and After Destruction

The Parliament of Australia is currently investigating the miners’ actions.

Rio Tinto also conducted its own investigation earlier this year, following which the company cut bonuses for directors and began efforts to improve relations with tribal communities.

“Simon Thompson stated that what happened on Juan was wrong and we are determined to ensure that the destruction of the heritage of such extraordinary archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again in the Rio Tinto operation.”

Artifacts found in the caves include 28,000-year-old animal bone tools and a 4,000-year-old belt made of human hair. DNA testing had directly linked it to the people of the land’s traditional owners – Putu Kunti Kurama and Pinikura (PKKP).

After the caves were destroyed, a PKKP representative, John Ashburton, said that losing the site was a “devastating blow”.

“There are few handful of known tribal sites in Australia that are so old … its importance cannot be underestimated,” he said.

Last week it was revealed that in the days leading up to the destruction of the caves in May, Rio Tinto hired lawyers as opponents tried to get an injunction to stop them.

Although the company said it was allowed to operate under tribal heritage laws, critics said it suggested the miner was aware of the site’s cultural significance.

In June, rival Minor BHP also halted its plan to expand its mine in the Pilbara region in June following Rio’s action.

Related topics

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  • Australia
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