Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques and two other senior executives are leaving the global miner after its board bowed to intense investor pressure for strong action over its decision to blow up 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara.
Rio Tinto said Jacques was leaving “by mutual agreement” with the board.
Iron ore head Chris Salisbury and corporate affairs boss Simone Niven will also depart, Rio Tinto said on Friday morning.
The move came after a week in which investors queued up to denounce as inadequate the board’s previous decision to cut the executives’ short-term bonuses over the scandal and the head of a parliamentary committee looking into the affair raised concerns that the company had given misleading evidence to the inquiry.
Despite leaving the company all three will continue to be entitled to long-term bonuses, Rio Tinto said.
Rio Tinto blew up the rock shelters, which were extremely significant to the area’s traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, in May, so that it could mine more iron ore and despite knowing for years of their importance.
In response to an outcry from Indigenous groups and investors, Rio Tinto’s board conducted a review of the decision, which led to the reduction in bonuses.
“While there is general recognition of the transparency of the board review and support for the changes recommended, significant stakeholders have expressed concerns about executive accountability for the failings identified,” Rio Tinto said.
In a move that recognised that the board has lacked engagement with Australian issues, the company will also promote non-executive director to senior independent director responsible for oversight of its Australian-listed arm, Rio Tinto Limited. Sam Laidlaw will continue as senior independent director responsible for the British half of the group, Rio Tinto plc.
“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,” Rio Tinto’s chairman, Simon Thompson, said.
“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.”