Rio Tinto Breaks Promise Made to Indigenous Group – Should Face Consequences

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The chairman of Rio Tinto, Simon Thompson, will probably face growing pressure. Why? Well, due to how the company’s board handled the desecration and utter destruction of sacred 46,000-year-old rock shelters located in Australia in order to expand iron ore mining. Why? Turns out, Thompson, the big man was big enough to make a fake promise to an Indigenous group. But, he wasn’t man enough to keep the promise.

Rio Tinto’s office in Perth, Australia. REUTERS/David Gray

Traditional owners of the rock shelters stated that the chairman broke his promise. He promised them that Rio’s acting head of iron ore, Ivan Vella, would oversee the procedure. But Rio announced last week that Vella would relocate to Canada. He is to run the aluminum branch of their operations there. Chief Commercial Officer Simon Trott will take his place.

Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) has expressed its worries that these often-seen changes in leadership would damage their ties with Rio. This is a pity, since they’ve been building trust with the company for years.

What Went Down?

Let’s remind you, reader, of the utter desecration the Juukan Gorge rock shelters that occurred in 2020. The news was heard around the globe and caused complete outrage. This led to the resignation of the Chief Executive Officer of the time, and a couple of deputies. After that fiasco, Rio Tinto promised to fixed their relationship with Indigenous groups.

Well, the current chairman is still facing growing pressure to quit. Why? Well, there’s an abundance of new social problems plaguing the company. This is causing the investors to fret, even though their financial numbers are good. In these modern times, investors, a.k.a. shareholders, are not idly sitting back when there is scandal on the horizon. Nope – they feel the burden of their responsibilities, too.

In a letter to Rio, PKKP Aboriginal Corp Chief Executive Grant Wilson stated they have been in contact with Thompson. PKKP asked Thompson point-blank to make clear who would carry the responsibility for the destruction of the shelters. Wilson further said that Thompson promised that Vella would remain in his position until the company finishes the repairs.

One can easily deduce that Rio Tinto still sees the relationship with Indigenous groups as an afterthought. A lot of people are calling for Thompson and the rest of the board members to face responsibility. Moreover, the people are insisting on change to the firm’s board and its members. Rio Tinto will organize its yearly meeting in London in April, as well as another one on Australia in May.

Kept in the Dark

The PKKP expressed displeasure with having to learn about the changes in top positions in Rio Tinto through media outlets. This is yet another example how Rio hasn’t kept its part of the promise – the relationship with PKKP is still damaged. The members of the Indigenous group did speak to Rio’s spokesperson. In the meantime, the company told media outlets that they still see the relationship with PKKP as a priority.

To be more exact, Rio Tinto said they say the progress of the repairs at the sacred rock shelters was encouraging, while also acknowledging there is still a lot to be done.