Rio Tinto Chairman to step down over Juukan Gorge destruction

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Rio Tinto’s Simon Thompson will step down as Chairman within the next year, citing the company’s destruction of the rockshelters at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

On 24 May 2020 activities related to Rio Tinto’s development of its Brockman 4 mine caused the destruction of historically significant rockshelters (known as Juukan 1 and Juukan 2) on the land of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP).

The incident, which triggered a board review that resulted in short-term performance-related bonus cuts of its then chief executive J-S Jacques and two other senior executives, ultimately saw J-S Jacques resign as chief executive on 1 January 2021.

He was replaced by the company’s Chief Strategy, Finance and Transformation Officer Jakob Stausholm.


Mr Thompson, who chaired the mining giant over the past seven years, told the Company Board he would not seek re-election as a non-executive director at the 2022 annual general meetings (AGMs), thus becoming the latest executive to resign as part of an executive reshuffle designed to restore trust with Traditional Owners and other stakeholders.

“I am proud of Rio Tinto’s achievements in 2020, including our outstanding response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a second successive fatality-free year, significant progress with our climate change strategy, and strong shareholder returns,” he said.

“However, these successes were overshadowed by the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters at the Brockman 4 operations in Australia and, as Chairman, I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event.

“Over the past eight months, we have engaged extensively with investors, government, civil society, Indigenous leaders and, most importantly, Traditional Owners to learn the lessons from Juukan Gorge.

“We have taken decisive action to address the weaknesses identified in our risk management and governance, while also acknowledging the need to improve our work culture and to rebuild relationships.

Rio Tinto said Sam Laidlaw, senior independent director of Rio Tinto plc, and Simon McKeon, senior independent director of Rio Tinto Limited, will jointly lead the search for Simon’s successor as Chair.

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