Media release

‘An afterthought’: Investors must hold Rio Chair to account

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility​ (ACCR) is disappointed by a report that Rio Tinto Chair, Simon Thompson has breached his own personal undertaking given to the PKKP People in November 2020 to leave in place acting Iron Ore chief Ivan Vella to lead the reconciliation between Rio Tinto and the PKKP following the Juukan Gorge Caves destruction. Vella, who enjoyed the trust of the PKKP,  is reported to have been replaced without notice to the PKKP.

Commenting on the report, James Fitzgerald, General Counsel/Strategy Lead at ACCR said:

“For decades before Thompson and (disgraced CEO) JS Jacques, Rio Tinto understood the priority and value of social licence to operate.

“In times past, responsible senior managers were encouraged to develop respectful, cooperative relationships with traditional owners as a foundation for solid long-term community relations.

“The wider tragedy here is just how profound the erosion of that knowledge and wisdom within Rio Tinto has been over the past five years, to the point where even the Chair could exercise such poor judgment.

“This is an elementary and entirely avoidable blunder by Thompson, reasonably interpreted by the PKKP as evidence that Rio still views its relationship with traditional owners as ‘an afterthought’. Thompson has just personally made the task of restoring trust and good relations with the PKKP much harder for responsible Rio Tinto staff.

“Sadly, it now appears to fall on the PKKP themselves to deliver a master-class in respect and good community relations practice to the Company’s top leadership. Meanwhile, Indigenous groups around the world watch on with interest.

“This in turn raises more questions about the fitness of Rio Tinto’s current board. Taken together with the board’s slippery and misleading performance in last year’s Juukan Parliamentary Inquiry, ACCR believes that investors should hold Thompson and other board members accountable, and  insist on necessary, constructive change to the Company’s board composition so that the task of rebuilding community trust can begin in earnest.”