Wednesday 3 March 2021 10:44 am

Rio Tinto chairman to step down over destruction of sacred site

The chairman of Rio Tinto will step down as the mining giant has come under fire for destroying a sacred cave system in Australia.

The global outcry over the destruction of the 46,000-year old Aboriginal site, known as Jukkan Gorge, has led the US government to rethink its plan for Rio Tinto and BHP to build a large copper mine in Arizona.

The San Carlos Apache tribe has fought the decision to allow a land swap for the mining plans, which has now been reversed following the controversy.  

Chairman Simon Thompson is set to be the fourth senior leader to depart the mining group over its destruction of the sacred Aboriginal site.

Thompson’s position of senior independent director will be filled by Sam Laidlaw, however, the group is still looking for a successor for chairman.

“I am proud of Rio Tinto’s achievements in 2020… However, these successes were overshadowed by the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters at the Brockman four operations in Australia and, as chairman, I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event,” Thompson said.

The news follows the appointment of Jakob Stausholm as chief executive in January, who is to prioritise ‘rebuilding the trust’ the company has lost.

Non-executive director Michael L’Estrange will also retire from the board later this year.

The board changes mark a crucial time in the conflict between native communities and mining companies.

An inquiry into Glencore yesterday found the mining group guilty of the same costly ignorance that pushed Rio Tinto into hot waters.

Expansion at an Australian mine run by Glencore put several sacred Aboriginal sites at risk, the inquiry yesterday heard.