A breach of our values
We apologise unreservedly to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people, and to people across Australia and beyond, for the destruction of Juukan Gorge.
In allowing the destruction of Juukan Gorge to occur, we fell far short of our values as a company and breached the trust placed in us by the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we operate. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the destruction of a site of such exceptional cultural significance never happens again, to earn back the trust that has been lost and to re-establish our leadership in communities and social performance.
A nearly two-decade-long timeline
Our relationship with the PKKP people extends over more than 17 years, with initial agreements covering our operations on PKKP land at Brockman 4 signed in 2006 and 2011. The decision to destroy the rock shelters was taken nearly eight years ago but, because mining is such a long-cycle industry, that decision was not actually implemented until 2020.
Internal and external reviews of the events leading to the blasting of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge have highlighted deficiencies in how our partnership with the PKKP people was managed, a lack of integration of our heritage management with our front- line operational teams, and a work culture that was too focused on business performance and not enough on building and maintaining relationships with Traditional Owners.
The archaeological and ethnographic reports received in 2013/14 should have triggered an internal review of the implications of this material new information for the mine development plans. Such a review did not take place. Following completion of the archaeological surveys and other mitigation measures agreed with the PKKP people in 2014, the site was reclassified as ‘cleared’ for mining and removed from relevant risk registers. As a consequence, knowledge and awareness of the location and significance of the site was progressively lost. Further opportunities to revise the mine plan were missed in 2018, when the final archaeological report was received, and again during 2019/20.
We are engaging with the PKKP people to determine an appropriate remedy process for the destruction of the rock shelters. This includes providing funding to support their submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia (the Parliamentary Inquiry) and their effective participation in discussions about how we rebuild and strengthen our partnership and provide a remedy that respects the wishes of these Traditional Owners.
A moratorium has been agreed on mining in the Juukan Gorge area and work is underway on a remediation plan. In partnership with the PKKP people, we are focusing on understanding how, through the remediation of the Gorge, we can re-establish a sense of place that recognises the exceptional cultural significance and connection of the Juukan Gorge area to past, current, and future PKKP people as well as their aspirations for future use and interaction with the place.
Remediation of the Gorge will be a challenging project. While the Juukan 2 rock shelter is likely to be irreparably damaged, Juukan 1 appears to be largely intact. Both shelters will be restored to the fullest extent possible and, if it is safe, access will be re-established. Other parts of the Gorge, including the Snake pool, which were not impacted by the blast, will remain protected and its connection to the Juukan 1 and 2 rock shelters will be re-established.
Artefacts and other materials salvaged from the rock shelters during archaeological excavations have already been moved to a purpose-built conservation facility. Discussions are in progress with the PKKP people on the provision of an appropriate, permanent ‘keeping place’.
A more detailed summary of our response to the recommendations issued by the Parliamentary Inquiry can be found below. To learn more about the Board review of the events that led to Juukan Gorge, please download our Annual Report 2020.
Ensuring this never happens againWe have taken decisive action to strengthen our processes and approach to cultural heritage.
GovernanceIntegrated Heritage Management Process (IHMP): The most urgent task was to ensure that we do not have other sites of exceptional cultural significance within our existing mine plans. We are the first phase of a new IHMP, which is being rolled out at our Pilbara iron ore business. The lessons from the IHMP will subsequently be implemented across our business globally while taking into account local circumstances. In the Pilbara, the IHMP involves a systematic review of all the heritage sites that we manage starting with those that may be impacted by our activities over the next two years. So far, we have reviewed over 1,000 sites and ranked each one by: (i) cultural significance (which is informed through consultation with the Traditional Owners of the land on which we operate); (ii) our re-confirmation that we have recently consulted with Traditional Owners for potential impacts; and (iii) the materiality of the impact. Where there is any doubt, we have reclassified the relevant sites from ‘cleared’ for mining back to ‘protected’ as a precautionary measure, pending further consultation with the Traditional Owners.
Empowering operational management: We have increased the responsibility of our product groups for Communities and Social Performance (CSP), partnerships and engagement. This means that line managers within the product groups directly own the relationships with host communities, including Indigenous peoples. All community and heritage management professionals at our operations now report to product group line management.
Improved governance and Board oversight: Any direct impacts to sites categorised as being of ‘high’ or ‘very high’ significance under the new Integrated Heritage Management Process must also be approved by the heritage sub-committee of the Executive Committee or the Board, as appropriate. The Sustainability Committee of the Board will oversee the implementation of the recommendations arising from the Board Review and the Parliamentary Inquiry and will ensure that lessons learned are applied, as appropriate to our operations worldwide. The Audit Committee of the Board will ensure that relevant lessons from Juukan Gorge are also applied to all other risk management processes, particularly those, like Juukan Gorge, where there is a significant lag between decision and implementation. Please refer to the risk management and internal control section of the Annual Report 2020 for more information.
Strengthened assurance: Second line assurance will be provided by a new stand-alone CSP Area of Expertise (AoE), reporting to Mark Davies, our Group Executive, Safety, Technical and Projects, a member of our Executive Committee, based in Brisbane. The CSP AoE will ensure conformance with Group policies, standards and procedures, including the new Integrated Heritage Management Process, and will share best practice worldwide. The new CSP AoE sits alongside the existing health, safety, environment (HSE) function. This will help to ensure that communities and heritage risk processes are aligned with our existing robust health, safety and environmental systems. The AoE will also oversee internal assessments and reviews, including deep dives and operational reviews in conjunction with experts from our Group Risk function. The framework includes a rigorous annual self-assessment and certification of impacts and risks. Internal Audit will provide a third line of defence.
Modernisation of agreements with Traditional Owners: We have written to Traditional Owners advising them that we will not enforce any clauses that restrict Traditional Owners from raising concerns about cultural heritage matters or that restrict them from applying for statutory protection of any cultural heritage sites. We have also offered to modernise agreements in the Pilbara where Traditional Owners have indicated that the current agreements have not met the aspirations of partnership we mutually sought at the outset. We will seek to agree an appropriate mechanism in our revised agreements so that there is a clear pathway for resolution of any differences of view that may emerge. We will also continue to work with Traditional Owners to increase the economic benefits that flow to their communities from employment, skills, training and business development.
Increasing transparency: Subject to the consent of Traditional Owners in Australia, we intend to make our new agreements public. We intend to engage with the Traditional Owners on how independent input can be sought to support this modernisation process.
Indigenous Advisory Group: We are consulting with Traditional Owners to create an Indigenous Advisory Group (IAG), intended to bring Indigenous voices into the senior leadership and oversight of the business in Australia. An IAG would provide direct input on our Indigenous strategy in Australia and coaching, mentoring and advice to senior leadership and, where possible, to the Board.
Work culture and relationshipsMaking sure that we have the right work culture and relationships will require sustained effort over many years. We are not underestimating the time it will take to build a more inclusive work culture that better recognises and celebrates Indigenous partnership in our business.
Increasing awareness and understanding of community and heritage issues: Operational leadership will receive training and coaching to ensure that they understand their new responsibilities and have access to the subject matter experts and information they need to support good decision-making. They will be encouraged to invest time in building relationships with Traditional Owners to ensure that they are aware of any concerns, before they escalate into major issues. To support them, we are reinvigorating our cultural awareness training, with all frontline staff, including the Board, undertaking both e-learning and face to face training with Indigenous Australians.
Fostering Australian Indigenous leadership: In order to increase the diversity of our leadership team, we have appointed a Chief Advisor, Indigenous Affairs, reporting directly to our Chief Executive Australia, and committed a US$50 million investment to advance employment opportunities and accelerate the career development of Indigenous Australians in our business. The Chief Advisor, Indigenous Affairs will also assist and coach operational management in the renegotiation of our agreements with Traditional Owners.
Building a more inclusive work culture: It is clear that we need to create a more inclusive, more diverse work culture, where people feel empowered to challenge decisions – a priority of the management team and our new Chief Executive.
In parallel with these internal changes, we continue to contribute to the reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA), making clear our support for a right of appeal by Traditional Owners in relation to approvals to impact cultural heritage sites on their Country. We are also engaging with the Chamber of Minerals and Energy in Western Australia, the Minerals Council of Australia and the ICMM, sharing the lessons that we have learned from Juukan Gorge.
Juukan Gorge: the Board Perspective
The destruction of two ancient rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge represented a breach of our partners’ trust and a failure to uphold our values as a company.
A review of the events leading up to the destruction of the rock shelters published by the Rio Tinto Board of Directors in August 2020 identified a series of systemic failures of our communities and heritage management processes at Brockman 4 over an extended period of time. The full review can be found below.
Both the Board Review and the Inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia (the Parliamentary Inquiry) make it clear that the events at Juukan Gorge represented a breach of our partners’ trust and a failure to uphold our values as a company.
The Board is determined to learn the lessons to ensure that the destruction of a site of exceptional cultural significance never happens again.
The oversight role of our Sustainability Committee
The Sustainability Committee supports the Board in ensuring Rio Tinto delivers a strong business performance on a sustainable basis that builds trust with our people, our partners and stakeholders and with wider society.
Internal and external reviews of the events leading to the blasting of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge have identified various deficiencies including how our partnership with the PKKP people was managed, a lack of integration of our heritage management with our front-line operational teams, and a work culture that was too focused on business performance and not enough on building and maintaining relationships with Traditional Owners.
The archaeological and ethnographic reports received in 2013-14 should have triggered an internal review of the implications of this material new information for the mine development plans. Such a review did not take place. Following completion of the archaeological surveys and other mitigation measures agreed with the PKKP people in 2014, the site was reclassified as ‘cleared’ for mining and removed from relevant risk registers. As a consequence, knowledge and awareness of the location and significance of the site was progressively lost. Further opportunities to revise the mine plan were missed in 2018, when the final archaeological report was received, and again during 2019-20.
The Sustainability Committee has been charged with overseeing the implementation of the recommendations set out in the Board Review and Parliamentary Inquiry, and with ensuring that these lessons are applied to our operations across Australia and the globe. The Committee has already commenced the oversight of this implementation process and, at each of its six meetings in 2021, will receive updates on progress, as well as maintaining an ongoing overview of our global Communities and Social Performance (CSP) risks.
Implementation of the recommendations will also form part of the new ESG component of the short term incentive plan for the Executive Committee and other relevant managers. For more detail, please refer to page 173 in our Annual Report 2020.
Our new Integrated Heritage Management ProcessOne of the most important recommendations for the Sustainability Committee to oversee will be the full integration of heritage management into our mining operations such that our product groups have primary responsibility for our CSP partnerships and engagement. In visits on Country in late 2020, Board members heard how Traditional Owners want to engage directly with the person who is in control of the mine site, the drills and the dozers. It is clear that our mines’ general managers also want this direct line of communication with Traditional Owners to ensure there is no room for error.
Another critical component is the new Integrated Heritage Management Process (IHMP).
Phase 1 of the IHMP is well underway and comprises an assessment of all heritage sites, assessing each on the basis of cultural significance, which is informed through consultation with Traditional Owners. Over 1,000 sites have been reviewed to date and all sites of high cultural significance have been allocated protective buffer zones.
Under the IHMP, any approvals to disturb sites that are low to moderate significance are made at the Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive level with decisions regarding sites of high or very high significance being made at the Chief Executive level. Where there is any doubt, we have reclassified the relevant sites from ‘cleared’ for mining back to ‘protected’ as a precautionary measure, pending further consultation with Traditional Owners. An increased level of consultation is also occurring, on an ongoing basis, to ensure a shared understanding of heritage sites and the proposed mine plans.
Phase 2 of the IHMP will fully integrate heritage considerations into mine planning and development studies. Our aim is to ensure that Traditional Owners are actively involved in the management of the cultural heritage aspects of mine design. This will inform the conduct of resource development, studies and the approvals process.
These include details of our commitment, in consultation with Traditional Owners, towards the modernisation of our agreements, the formation of an Indigenous Advisory Group and the status of the remedy process with the PKKP people, including a moratorium on mining in the Juukan Gorge area and a remediation plan for the rock shelters.
Risk management and internal control
The overall effectiveness of any risk management framework requires clear expectations and consistency of application of the framework across different product groups and businesses, countries of operation and functional areas of expertise. Unfortunately, this did not happen in the case of Juukan Gorge.
To support the product groups, a new CSP Area of Expertise has been formed to own the relevant standards and procedures, and to ensure that best practices are consistent globally. This team will also provide the second line of assurance on CSP and ensure we have the right people with the right skills in the right locations. Our Internal Audit team will provide the third line of assurance, reporting directly to the Sustainability Committee.
These changes to cultural heritage risk management are designed to deliver more rigorous assurance of the way we manage our communities and cultural heritage risks across our operations globally. The Audit Committee will monitor the effectiveness of these changes to our overall risk management and internal control framework.
Risk frameworks are only ever as good as the information that flows through them, and the experience and judgment of individual managers in key positions. This is particularly important in a group that is the size, scale and complexity of Rio Tinto.
Effective management of community, heritage and other social risks is therefore dependent upon a work culture that creates the same awareness and accords the same priority to these issues as it does to operational, production or safety risks.
One of the key findings from Juukan Gorge is that we need to provide additional training to our front-line operational managers on the increasingly complex social and environmental risks they are required to manage.
Ensuring that we have the right work culture and relationships to support good decision-making will require sustained effort over many years. We have launched initiatives to increase awareness and training on community and heritage issues and the amount of time that general managers invest in our relationships.
Over the past few months, the Board has held a series of virtual town halls and engagements with staff around the world to seek their views on what we need to do to create a more inclusive, more diverse work culture, where people feel empowered to challenge decisions. In particular, we need to ensure that Indigenous Australians have a stronger voice, not just in our host communities but also within the company. Alongside these steps to build a more inclusive work culture, it is clear that we need to break down silos within the company to ensure that community and heritage issues are fully integrated into business planning decisions (in exactly the same way as safety or production).
The appointment of Jakob Stausholm as our new Chief Executive represents an important milestone as we continue the process of rebuilding trust. One of the reasons the Board chose Jakob is because he will provide clear leadership of our efforts to re-establish Rio Tinto’s reputation as an industry leader in environmental and social performance.
In April 2020, we appointed Hinda Gharbi and Jennifer Nason to the Board, and Professor Ngaire Woods joined us in September. All three new directors bring relevant experience of championing inclusion, diversity, cultural change and governance. We currently have a search underway for a fourth new NED, to replace David Constable. One of our selection criteria will be their ability to support this change programme.
During the two weeks following the publication of the Board Review in August 2020, we engaged with over 70 of our shareholders, Traditional Owners, Indigenous leaders, the governments of Australia and Western Australia, and other stakeholders. At the end of that two-week period of intense engagement, the Board unanimously agreed that J-S Jacques, Chris Salisbury and Simone Niven should leave the company by mutual agreement as it was clear that a number of influential shareholders and other important stakeholders (mainly, but not exclusively, in Australia) had lost confidence in their ability to lead the necessary change.
We acknowledge that some commentators believed that the Board should have acted sooner. There was, however, a very wide range of opinion on the appropriate sanctions and we believe that it was right, on a decision of this magnitude, to establish the facts and engage with as many stakeholders as possible before removing three of our most senior executives, including the Chief Executive, from the business.
In making the eligible leaver determination for the three executives, the Board fully recognised the gravity of the destruction at Juukan Gorge but was mindful that they did not deliberately cause the events to happen, they did not do anything unlawful, nor did they engage in fraudulent or dishonest behaviour or wilfully neglect their duties.
In making the final determination on their separation terms, it was necessary to balance the findings of the Board Review, the financial penalties that had been applied and the loss of employment for the three individuals, on the one hand, against the considerable achievements of those executives over many years. In this context, the loss of employment was considered the greater sanction.
The full details of the separation terms for each executive are set out on pages 169 and 174 of the Annual Report 2020.
The non-executive directors donated the equivalent of 10% of their 2020 non-executive director fees to the Clontarf Foundation, which supports education, training and employment for Indigenous Australians. Jakob Stausholm, the Chief Executive and executive director, has made a donation of an equivalent amount.
Latest Juukan Gorge Releases
Joint statement from PKKP and Rio Tinto
Rio Tinto accepts that it should have communicated the recent executive changes to the PKKP in a more collaborative way.
Joint statement from PKKP and Rio Tinto
MELBOURNE, Australia--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Rio Tinto and the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP) confirm they have taken initial steps in rebuilding their relationship following the events at Juukan Gorge in May 2020. PKKP in co-operation with Rio Tinto have been involved in remedial works at Juukan Gorge. These works will continue. A joint session of the PKKP and Rio Tinto boards ha
Rio Tinto acknowledges interim report from Australian Parliamentary Committee
MELBOURNE, Australia--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Rio Tinto acknowledges the release today of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia’s interim report following its inquiry into the destruction of rockshelters at Juukan Gorge on the land of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP) in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Rio Tinto reiterates its apology to the Traditional Owners
Statement on Juukan Gorge: 12 June 2020Rio Tinto will fully cooperate with the Inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia while also continuing to support the West Australian government in the reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA). We are committed to engaging with the rest of the industry, Traditional Owner Groups, and federal and state governments across a number of areas relating to cultural heritage approvals and processes, and the broad contribution of the resources sector to Australia.
We are very sorry for the distress we have caused the PKKP in relation to Juukan Gorge and our first priority remains rebuilding trust with the PKKP. Rio Tinto has a long history of working in partnership and creating shared value with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around our operations and across Australia more broadly. We remain absolutely committed to continuing to do so.
We believe the mining industry has a critical role to play in contributing to the future prosperity of all Australians.
Jean-Sebastien Jacques, Chief Executive
Statement on Juukan Gorge: 31 May 2020We pay our respects to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP), and we are sorry for the distress we have caused. Our relationship with the PKKP matters a lot to Rio Tinto, having worked together for many years.
We have operated on PKKP country under a comprehensive and mutually agreed Participation Agreement since 2011.
At Juukan, in partnership with the PKKP, we followed a heritage approval process for more than 10 years. In 2014 we performed a large-scale exercise in the Juukan area to preserve significant cultural heritage artefacts, recovering approximately 7,000 objects.
We will continue to work with the PKKP to learn from what has taken place and strengthen our partnership. As a matter of urgency, we are reviewing the plans of all other sites in the Juukan Gorge area.
From a broader perspective, as we already work within all existing frameworks, we will launch a comprehensive review of our heritage approach, engaging Traditional Owners to help identify, understand and recommend ways to improve the process.
Three decades ago we were the first mining company to recognise native title. Today we also recognise that a review is needed in relation to the management of heritage in Western Australia more broadly, and we will advocate where relevant for legislative reform.
The mining industry supports all Australians by providing jobs, supporting small business, and paying taxes and royalties. We remain committed to doing so in a way that provides economic development opportunities and facilitates the preservation and sharing of traditional culture.
As a company with strong ties and a long history of partnership with Indigenous Australians we are committed to updating our practices and working together so that we can co-exist for mutual benefit.
Chris Salisbury, Chief Executive, Iron Ore
Statement on Juukan Gorge: 27 May 2020
Working with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura PeopleRio Tinto takes cultural heritage and partnerships with Traditional Owner groups very seriously. We were the first mining company in Australia to embrace Traditional Owners’ native title rights and interests, and we have a long history of recognising and working to safeguard areas of cultural significance.
We have had a longstanding relationship with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People for over two decades and have been working together on the Juukan area since 2003, which includes having secured the necessary approvals for mining activity in consultation with the PKKP.
Chris Salisbury, Chief Executive, Iron Ore
The PKKP and Rio Tinto signed a comprehensive native title and heritage agreement in 2011, providing for ongoing engagement as well as financial and non-financial benefits to the PKKP for mining activities on their country.
The mining activity conducted in May 2020 was undertaken in accordance with all necessary approvals. It was preceded by a ministerial consent under Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act. This was obtained in 2013 after detailed consultation with the PKKP people over a decade that included research investigations in 2008 under a Section 16 authorisation. Following the Section 18 consent extensive heritage preservation and salvage work was undertaken in 2014, all with PKKP involvement.
With the approval of the PKKP, the preserved artefacts have been deposited at a Rio Tinto storage facility to ensure appropriate protection of the material and we are working with the PKKP on longer-term options. We have continued to work closely and collaboratively with the PKKP on a range of heritage matters, including operations in the Juukan area, and have modified our operations to avoid cultural and heritage impacts. From 2014, the PKKP and Rio Tinto continued dialogue on the Juukan region, including discussion on the findings from the specialist studies that were conducted on the excavated materials. This included a site visit to the Brockman 4 operations with PKKP people in 2019.
We proceeded with our operations at Brockman 4 in reliance of our comprehensive agreement with the PKKP and having all necessary approvals and consents.
We are sorry that the recently expressed concerns of the PKKP did not arise through the engagements that have taken place over many years under the agreement that governs our operations on their country. To support thorough engagement on these issues, we have a range of formal avenues in place, which go beyond legal requirements. These activities support ongoing dialogue and engagement to occur as part of these processes on cultural heritage.
We will continue to work with the PKKP, Traditional Owner groups, government and industry on reform in this area.