Rio Tinto has published the board review of cultural heritage management, following the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters in Western Australia in May. The report details what elements of Rio Tinto’s systems, decision-making processes and governance failed to work as they should have and sets out recommendations to prevent a similar incident occurring in the future.

The board review concluded that the company had obtained legal authority to impact the Juukan rock shelters, however, it fell short of the standards and internal guidance that Rio Tinto sets for itself, over and above its legal obligations.

The report details a number of areas where Rio Tinto can improve, strengthen or amend practices, work culture and governance, including:

  • Strengthening communities and heritage systems, processes and teams within operations to ensure that heritage issues are accorded equivalent priority alongside safety and operational performance.
  • Strengthening oversight of operational, communities and heritage practices and performance by establishing a new Social Performance function reporting to the group executive, HSE, technical and projects.
  • Strengthening the group’s audit capability through the introduction of more effective internal audits to ensure conformance with Rio Tinto and independent International Heritage Standards and Guidelines.
  • Strengthening board oversight and assurance to enhance governance and overall accountability.

In light of the findings of the review, the board has decided that J-S Jacques, chief executive; Chris Salisbury, chief executive of iron ore; and Simone Niven, group executive, corporate relations, will not receive a performance-related bonus for 2020 under the company’s Short-Term Incentive Plan. In addition, Jacques’ 2016 Long-Term Incentive Plan award, that is due to vest in the first half of 2021, will be reduced by £1 million (subject to vesting). 

Simon Thompson, chairman of Rio Tinto, said “While the review provides a clear framework for change, it is important to emphasise that this is the start of a process, not the end. We will implement important new measures and governance to ensure we do not repeat what happened at Juukan Gorge and we will continue our work to rebuild trust with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

“We fully recognise traditional owners must be treated as equal partners which includes regular, open and respectful dialogue. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the PKKP on a joint initiative to learn the lessons from Juukan and to strengthen our partnership.

“It is clear that no single individual or error was responsible for the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters, but there were numerous missed opportunities over almost a decade and the company failed to uphold one of Rio Tinto’s core values – respect for local communities and for their heritage. We are determined to learn, improve and rebuild trust across various internal and external partners. I look forward to working with J-S, Chris and Simone to drive change and improvements in order to re-establish Rio Tinto’s credentials and strengthen heritage management across the business.”

The review findings complement and continue to inform Rio Tinto’s ongoing cooperation with the Inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia. Rio Tinto also continues to support the West Australian Government’s planned reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA).