Media release

Rio board review: financial penalties completely off the mark of damage caused; CEO must go

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility​ (ACCR) is appalled at the internal Board Review of cultural heritage management at Rio Tinto, released today. The recommended financial penalties equate to tens of thousands years of cultural heritage being valued at just A$7 million.

Commenting on the Board Review, James Fitzgerald, Legal Counsel/Strategy Lead at ACCR said:

“Rio Tinto’s board review is highly disappointing. It amounts to little more than a public relations exercise that still attempts to blame the PKKP; previous Rio Tinto administrations; and anyone else, rather than the company’s current senior management.

“This is an appalling indictment of how Rio Tinto truly values cultural heritage. Investors who have condemned this destruction must continue to hold Rio to account.

“Tens of thousands of years of cultural significance get blown up and all that goes to show for it is A$7 million of lost remuneration.

“These financial penalties are completely off the mark of the damage caused — and are pocket change for these highly paid executives.

“Irreplaceable cultural heritage has been lost and the only consequence for any of the senior leadership at Rio is the loss of a bonus — not even their job.

“These minimal proposed financial penalties misunderstand the nature of the damage, which is permanent and irreparable. Short term financial considerations were at the core of this disaster and cannot be the solution.

“Rio’s board could have acted decisively. This soft touch, public relations-oriented review calls into question the suitability of every board member, especially the Chair Simon Thompson and the head of the review Michael L’Estrange.

“The CEO needs to go and head of cultural heritage, Simone Niven needs to accompany him.

“The fact remains that there were numerous opportunities for Rio Tinto to avoid this disaster over the past four years, and all of those opportunities were missed because nobody in senior positions gave Indigenous community relations the priority it deserves.

“It is remarkable to see Rio Tinto prepared to throw its own reputation, and the reputation of so many past executives, under a bus to save its current CEO and head of External Relations.

“The statement (at para 50) that Rio believed it had Free, Prior, Informed Consent to destroy Juukan Gorge on the basis of agreements made in 2006 and 2011 not only demonstrates a lack of understanding of the concept of Free, Prior, Informed Consent: it is contradicted by Rio executives’ own evidence before the parliamentary committee on 7 August, where they conceded that FPIC is an ongoing obligation.”