Rio Tinto chief executive officer Jean-Sebastien Jacques has resigned over the destruction of a very ancient cave in Pilbara, Western Australia. Jacques was under extreme pressure from investors after the company went ahead with the blowing up of a 46,000-year-old sacred Indigenous site. The decision to destroy the Aboriginal cave in order to expand an iron ore mine. The company drew widespread condemnation from the public as well as from shareholders. The company said that Jacques would remain at the top post until his successor is chosen or at the end of next March, whichever date comes first. Two other senior executives will also leave the company at the end of 2020.
Simone Niven, group executive for corporate relations, and Chris Salisbury, head of the iron ore business are the two executives who will leave the company. While Niven will exit the company at the end of this year, Salisbury is immediately stepping down from his position but will stay with the company at the end of December. Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said, ‘What happened at Juukan was wrong.’ He was referring to the cave that was destroyed. The cave was a heritage site and there were artifacts of tens of thousands of years with huge cultural and archeological significance.
Simon Thompson said that the company will ensure that no such incident takes place at a Rio Tinto operation. Three top executives have been penalized a combined USD 5 million in cut bonuses. They will however still receive some salary as part of the terms of their contracts. The cave was destroyed on May 24 despite strong opposition from local custodians of the land. The battle with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people went for around seven years. The company had accepted the fault and said that it failed to meet some of its own standards. But it drew strong criticism from investors group for not firing any executives. The announcement that the chief executive officer has stepped down has been welcomed by some advocacy groups in Australia.