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Juukan Gorge

A breach of our values

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 are strengthening our processes and approach to cultural heritage management by revising internal governance, including policies and procedures, and our practices. We are more focused on listening to and building relationships with Traditional Owners so we can better manage cultural heritage.

As part of our efforts to improve transparency, we have committed to providing updates on the work we are undertaking to enhance our communities and social performance (CSP) practices. 

In September 2021, we released our first Communities and Social Performance Commitments Disclosure Report which details our progress made against the commitments made in the 2020 Board Review of the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters.

An update on our progress throughout 2021 is summarised below. Our next dedicated Communities and Social Performance Commitments Disclosure Report is due to be released in the third quarter of 2022.

1. Remedying and rebuilding our relationship with the PKKP people

We are working under the direct guidance of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people to remediate country. Throughout our journey with the PKKP people, they have graciously shared their knowledge to ensure our remediation efforts deliver the best possible outcomes. During this time, we have been reminded of the importance of trusted relationships and valued partnerships through listening and continuously demonstrating mutual respect.

In May 2022, we signed a co-management Heads of Agreement with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation, which sets out how we will work together in partnership on a co-management approach to mining activities on PKKP Country. We are committed to building stronger relationships and working in partnership on-Country with all Indigenous people of the lands on which we operate.

We continue to work in partnership with the PKKP people to finalise co-management principles under which we can work together to enhance protection of heritage and achieve better outcomes. The new model will involve earlier and more detailed consultation, increased sharing of information and greater involvement of PKKP representatives in Rio Tinto’s decision-making throughout the lifecycle of the mine.

2. Partnering with Pilbara Traditional Owners in modernising and improving agreements

During the year, we continued to actively engage with Traditional Owners in Western Australia to better understand existing and historic issues and define ways we can jointly deliver more effective outcomes. We have developed a set of principles to guide the agreement modernisation process which seek to address areas where current agreements have not met the Traditional Owners’ aspirations of partnership.

It is our intention that revised agreements will seek to agree on a clear pathway for resolution of any differences of views that may emerge. We will also continue to work with Traditional Owners and local communities to build sustainable business development and employment participation opportunities.

In Canada, we currently have 11 active long-term Life of Mine agreements and are engaging on four new agreements with Indigenous communities in Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

3. Establishing the new Communities and Social Performance model

In 2021, we established our new Communities and Social Performance (CSP) model to increase our social performance capacity and capability across the business. We now have more than 400 technical CSP professionals working on 60 sites in 35 countries (compared with 250 professionals in 2020).

A central CSP Area of Expertise complements our asset-based teams by monitoring external societal trends, developing and reviewing standards, systems and risk and assurance processes, building capability, and providing strategic regional and technical advice to our businesses.

4. Building local capability and capacity to support the site General Manager

Operational leaders play a critical role alongside our CSP teams in our social performance. Product group Chief Executives have overall accountability for relationships with Indigenous peoples, supported by line managers who have direct responsibility for maintaining relationships with host communities, including Indigenous peoples.

5. Improving our governance, planning and systems where it relates to communities

In 2021, we designed a new social performance strategy and set CSP targets for 2022 to 2026 to support its achievement. We also strengthened our governance including a review of our global CSP Standard and Cultural Heritage Group Procedure for Australian businesses, improved assurance and risk management processes.

As part of our global Risk Control Framework, we created a standardised library of cultural heritage controls across the Group. This will enhance control effectiveness across our business. A substantive independent review of our cultural heritage performance is currently underway at all our businesses, to redefine best practice for cultural heritage management in our organisation.

Phase one of the review focuses on Australian assets, in consultation with a number of Indigenous groups, and is being led by the sustainability consultancy Environmental Resources Management. Phase two is due to be awarded at the end of the first quarter, with completion planned for the end of 2022. 

We have also established an internal global Indigenous Coordination Committee which meets monthly to ensure cross-functional alignment on Indigenous strategy and activities.

6. Reducing barriers to, and increasing, Indigenous employment

We know that a diverse workforce is an important factor in business performance, and we are committed to Indigenous peoples having a stronger voice. In Australia, we have invested $50 million over five years to attract, retain and grow Indigenous leaders and we have increased the number of Australian Indigenous leaders in our business five-fold since November 2020.

We are partnering with Traditional Owners and local stakeholders to deliver initiatives that contribute to improving the pathways to employment for Indigenous peoples, increasing the number of employment opportunities and providing positive experiences for current and future employees. In Western Australia, we have launched an Indigenous participation strategy which seeks to improve the opportunities for Indigenous peoples in Australia to participate in employment.

In 2021, 76 Indigenous employees matched with senior leaders participated in our two-way mentoring programme across our Australia business to deepen cross-cultural understanding and responsiveness.

7. Increasing Indigenous leadership and developing cultural competency within Rio Tinto

The Indigenous leadership commitment is designed to fast-track Indigenous Australians into professional and leadership roles. During the year, 126 Indigenous employees earned promotions across Australia.

In Australia, 80% of our senior leaders completed our Cultural Connection programme in 2021. We also launched a digital cultural onboarding platform to enhance and support cultural safety and understanding. More than 65 employees and new starters completed the experience with their leaders in the second half of 2021.

A component of our 2021 ESG short term incentive component was linked to an increase in cultural awareness training. The target was risk-based, by identifying cohorts of employees and contractors whose roles interface with cultural heritage. Business units and product groups identified their training cohorts and training programmes were designed to reflect the local context. The length of programmes varied according to context and risk profile.

In our Iron Ore group, our immersive virtual reality cultural awareness training was rolled out in 2021 and is now part of our onboarding process. We are also implementing regionally specific, Traditional Owner-led cultural awareness training.

In North America, two virtual cultural awareness sessions were facilitated by an Indigenous-owned business, and numerous site-based sessions were held in 2021 including at our IOC operations, which have introduced mandatory cultural awareness for employees and contractors and achieved full compliance in 2021. We have also launched online cultural awareness training on Canadian Indigenous peoples’ history, culture and industry interaction.

8. Establishing a process to redefine and improve cultural heritage management standards

In Iron Ore, our Integrated Heritage Management Process (IHMP) ensures heritage considerations are embedded throughout the mine development process from early resource planning and studies through to closure. By the end of 2021, we had reviewed over 2,200 heritage sites in the Pilbara, adding further protection controls. Through ongoing consultation with Traditional Owners, we have removed 100 million dry tonnes of iron ore from reserves in 2020 and 2021 through this process.

The core principles from IHMP have informed the Cultural Heritage Group Procedure update and our cultural heritage global control library and we continue to explore opportunities to embed these across the business.

9. Establishing an Australian Advisory Group

We have established an Australian Advisory Group (AAG) to provide guidance on current and emerging issues, and better manage policies and positions that are important to both Australian communities and our broader business. 

10. Elevating external consultation

In 2021, we established the Chief Executive Australia role to focus on rebuilding trust and strengthening external relationships across Australia and a Chief Advisor Civil Society and Outreach role to expand our capacity to engage on key matters globally. We continue to increase our dialogue with Government, CSOs, Indigenous leaders, Traditional Owners and other stakeholders at all levels of our organisation, and will explore further opportunities to engage in 2022.

11. Elevating employee engagement

We are focused on keeping our people informed of our commitments and achievements, through the implementation of new communications tools, channels and platforms. And through training, networking opportunities and cultural competency programmes, we are increasing cultural awareness at every level of our business.

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.

Lessons learned from Juukan Gorge

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.

Internal and external reviews of the events leading up to the destruction of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge have highlighted deficiencies in how our partnerships with Traditional Owner groups were 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.

A review 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) made 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.

In 2021, the Board conducted a joint exercise with the Executive Committee to learn the lessons from the destruction of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge, and the Group’s response to the tragic events. In addition to strengthening crisis management and communications, the key learnings which the Board and Executive team are committed to addressing are: 

  • Promoting an inclusive, open and transparent culture that empowers people to raise and escalate concerns on operational and ethical issues 
  • Applying a more values-driven approach to guide decision making. Our new values of care, courage and curiosity, support these desired behaviours

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.

Our new Integrated Heritage Management Process

In Iron Ore, our Integrated Heritage Management Process (IHMP) ensures heritage considerations are embedded throughout the mine development process, from early resource planning and studies through to closure. By the end of 2021, we reviewed over 2,200 heritage sites in the Pilbara, adding further protection controls. Through ongoing consultation with Traditional Owners, we have removed 100 million dry tonnes of iron ore from reserves in 2020 and 2021 through this process. The core principles from IHMP have informed the Cultural Heritage Group Procedure update and our cultural heritage global control library, and we continue to explore opportunities to embed these across the business.

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.