One of Rio Tinto’s most senior executives has partly attributed failures that caused the destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site in Western Australia to the miner’s push to simplify its business during the China-driven iron ore boom years.
Stephen McIntosh, Rio’s former group executive of growth and innovation who is set to retire on December 31, said the 350 per cent growth in its flagship iron ore business during the early 2000s led to changes in the miner’s systems and processes and a more “transactional” approach to engagements with traditional owner groups.
“During the China-led boom, the industry, the company, Rio Tinto grew enormously,” Mr McIntosh said at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne on Wednesday,
“Is everything going to keep up with that growth? Telephonically yes. But clearly in terms of internal systems and processes … you try to codify as much as you can.”
“Clearly what’s happened here is we have ended up with an issue where we probably became overly transactional and there were clearly breakdowns in communications,” he said.
Mr McIntosh, a 30-year Rio Tinto veteran and one of the company’s most respected executives, added that Rio had lost the trust of traditional owners and must now work to repair those ties.
“Trust is an asset that you work incredibly hard to get but it disappears extraordinarily quickly when you don’t meet the aspirations of all your stakeholders,” he said. “The key is you’ve got to have deep and meaningful dialogue with all of your key stakeholders.”
Rio Tinto’s ill-fated decision to blast two culturally significant rock shelters at WA’s Juukan Gorge, which had evidence of continual human occupation dating back at least 46,000 years, left the land’s traditional owners devastated, prompted a federal parliamentary inquiry and ignited a shareholder revolt that eventually forced the resignation of chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two of his deputies.
The blast was legally sanctioned, but went against the wishes of the traditional owners – the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people – who said they were not aware of Rio’s intention to destroy the site until it was too late for the explosive charges to be removed.
Rio Tinto has conceded multiple failures in its engagement and heritage-protection processes in the lead-up to the blasting of the gorge. The company has publicly apologised and is seeking to repair its relations with Indigenous stakeholders across its mining operations.
Mr McIntosh said the leadership of Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest mining company, should not be judged solely from the failings at Juukan Gorge.
“I think it’s important that we don’t define all of the things that go on at Rio Tinto by this one tragic event.”
A federal parliamentary inquiry launched into the Juukan Gorge disaster has questioned executives from Rio Tinto as well as a string of other resources companies, including BHP and Fortescue Metals Group about their approaches to cultural heritage and mining works that impact sacred Indigenous sites.
The inquiry is due to report on December 9.
Source: Thanks smh.com