Rio Tinto president resigns over outcry over cave explosions
Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson will step down next year in response to investor stigma over the mining company’s destruction last year of a 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous site in Western Australia.
The Anglo-Australian miner said on Wednesday that Thompson would not seek re-election at the company’s annual meetings, scheduled for April and May 2022, and that he would start looking for a successor.
Thompson’s decision to step down following a storm of criticism over the board initial decision not to fire any of the executives responsible for the explosion of two former rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in May 2020 – an event that sparked a global backlash against Rio.
Pressure from Australian pension funds and other investors forced the resignations from former Rio CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques and two other senior executives in September of last year.
However, Rio’s disclosure last month that Jacques received a 20 percent salary increase in 2020, despite the cave explosion scandal, sparked new accusations of the minor’s lack of responsibility.
Thompson said in a statement Wednesday that he “was ultimately responsible for the failures that led to this tragic event” at Juukan Gorge, which eclipsed Rio’s other successes in 2020, including the biggest dividend in its history.
“The tragic events at Juukan Gorge are a source of personal sadness and deep regret, in addition to being a flagrant violation of our values as a company,” he added.
Thompson, a former UK investment banker and Anglo-American leader, joined Rio’s board in 2014 and became president in 2018.
Another Rio director, Michael L’Estrange, who directed a controversial investigation in the destruction of Juukan Gorge, which critics say has largely cleared senior management of blame, will retire ahead of the company’s annual meeting in London next month.
The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors welcomed the news of the departures, citing the recognition of the need for “board accountability for cultural and operational failures”.
“Today’s announcement means that the board can be renewed. In particular, investors would like to see the board increase its links to Australian operations and communities, as well as an increase in mining experience, ”said Louise Davidson, ACSI CEO.
Sam Laidlaw, one of two independent Rio directors to head the search for a new chairman, said the board accepted Thompson’s decision and was grateful for agreeing to provide an important period of stability to the general manager of the minor, Jakob Stausholm.
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