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Juukan Gorge

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 the Juukan Gorge rock shelters.

In allowing the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters 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.

 

We know that we cannot change the past. But we can continue to seek out, listen to and respect different voices and perspectives, to ensure that in the future, cultural heritage sites of significance are treated with the care they deserve. And the changes we make should improve, over time, our engagement with Indigenous and First Nations communities in every region where we operate worldwide. This is the legacy we aim to create, together.”

Jakob Stausholm, Chief Executive

Our commitments

We have taken action to strengthen our processes and approach to cultural heritage management by revising internal practices, policies and governance. We are focused on listening to and building relationships with Traditional Owners so we can better manage cultural heritage.

In March 2021, as part of our efforts to improve transparency, we committed to augmenting disclosures of the work we are undertaking to enhance our Communities and Social Performance practices.

  1. Remedying and rebuilding our relationship with the PKKP people
  2. Partnering with Pilbara Traditional Owners in modernising and improving agreements
  3. Establishing the new Communities and Social Performance model
  4. Building local capability and capacity to support the site General Manager
  5. Improving our governance, planning and systems where it relates to communities
  6. Reducing barriers to, and increasing, Indigenous employment
  7. Increasing Indigenous leadership and developing cultural competency within Rio Tinto
  8. Establishing a process to redefine and improve cultural heritage management standards
  9. Establishing an Australian Advisory Group
  10. Elevating external consultation
  11. Elevating employee engagement

In September 2021, we released our first Communities and Social Performance Commitments Disclosure Report which details our progress made against these commitments.

In May 2020, we destroyed rock shelters of exceptional significance at Juukan Gorge, near our Brockman iron ore mine in the Pilbara, Western Australia. This was a breach of the trust placed in us by the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other Traditional Owners of the lands on which our business operates. At our AGM, we presented a video of some of our employees' reflections on Juukan Gorge.

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 the 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.

Juukan Gorge: the Board's 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 the 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 Process
     

    One 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. In the Pilbara, we have now reviewed more than 1,300 sites, with 54 million dry tonnes of iron ore removed from reserves.

    Under the IHMP, any approvals to disturb sites that are of 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 Rio Tinto Chief Executive level or the Board, as appropriate. 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 level of assurance on CSP and ensure we have the right people with the right skills in the right locations. Our Internal Audit team is an important part of our second line of assurance, reporting directly to the Sustainability Committee. Our third level of assurance brings in independent audits to ensure the effectiveness of our controls.

    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.

    In addition, we have an Australia Steering Committee comprised of the most senior leaders of our business who are based in the country. Indigenous and cultural heritage issues are tabled at this forum each month, as well as at our Executive Committee.

    The Australia Steering Committee and Executive Committee provide bi-monthly updates to the Board. The Communities and Social Performance Area of Expertise and Rio Tinto Iron Ore also provide regular updates to the Sustainability Committee of the Board.

  • Culture
     

    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.

    In the second half of 2020, the Board 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 and 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 Non-Executive Director, to replace David Constable. One of our selection criteria will be their ability to support this change programme.

  • Consequence management
     

    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.

Final report into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge, issued by the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia

17 October 2021

Kellie Parker, Rio Tinto Chief Executive Australia Opening Statement to Joint Committee on Northern Australia

27 August 2021

Joint Statement from PKKP and Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto’s position on recommendations issued by the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia

Our positions on Recommendation 1, as at 16 December 2020. 

Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Destruction of the Rockshelters at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia

On 31 July we made our submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia. This submission may be found below.

On 7 August we appeared before the Inquiry, and took some questions on notice. We submitted our answers and a number of additional points to the Inquiry on 3 September. These may be found below.

On 16 October we appeared before the Inquiry for a second time, and took some questions on notice. We submitted our answers and a number of additional points to the Inquiry on 6 November. These may be found below.

On 3 November the Inquiry Committee visited the Juukan Gorge site. Further questions on notice were taken and our answers submitted to the Inquiry on 20 November. These can be found below.

On 27 August 2021 we appeared before the Inquiry for a third time. As in previous hearings, we submitted answers to questions taken on notice. These can be found below.

Rio Tinto Board Review

The Rio Tinto Board of Directors conducted a review of our cultural heritage management processes, procedures, reporting and governance.  

The full findings of the review may be found below. The media release may be found here.

Key Statements on Juukan Gorge

  • Statement on Juukan Gorge: 12 June 2020
    Rio 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 2020
    We 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 People

    Rio 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.