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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.

 

In the two years since the tragic destruction of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge, on the land of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people in Western Australia, we have been changing the way we work in every part of our business. While we have made progress, we know it will take time to transform our culture and regain trust. But, together with the Indigenous peoples of the lands on which we operate, we are committed to ensuring cultural heritage is respected, valued and conserved for future generations.”

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 October 2022, we released our second 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 is summarised below.

1. Remedying and rebuilding our relationship with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people

In November 2022 we signed a remedy agreement with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation and agreed to create the Juukan Gorge Legacy Foundation. In accordance with the right to self-determination, the agreement reflects the desire of the Traditional Owners to create a foundation that supports the cultural, social, educational and economic aspirations of the group. The Foundation, to be led and controlled by Traditional Owners, will also enable the delivery of broader benefits through commercial partnership opportunities.

Under the agreement, we will provide financial support to the foundation to progress major cultural and social projects including a new keeping place for storage of important cultural materials.

In May 2022, we signed a co-management Heads of Agreement with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation, which sets out how we will work together in partnership on a co-management approach to mining activities on Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura 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.

In July 2022, in collaboration and with Traditional Owner oversight, we commenced re-excavation on Juukan Gorge 2 at the request of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people as part of the broader Juukan Gorge project. The Iron Ore Heritage Management team has been working with Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Traditional Owners and Specialist Heritage consultants to plan the re-excavation since mid-2021.

We are working under the direct guidance of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people to remediate country. Throughout our journey with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura 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.

2. Partnering and working collaboratively with Traditional Owners

We continuously consult with Traditional Owners in the Pilbara on our future development projects to protect cultural heritage. We have re-consulted with Traditional Owners on every heritage site under a Section 18 that had been planned for impact. And we have communicated a set of principles to guide the agreement modernisation process which seeks to address confidentiality, exercise of rights, treatment of new information, more impactful realisation of economic and social benefits, and transparency.

Our Communities and Social Performance Standard requires our assets to be able to demonstrate progress towards, or achievement of, Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of affected Indigenous peoples where our activities may impact significant cultural heritage. For an FPIC process to be effective, in addition to genuine stakeholder engagements and trust-building, power imbalances and capacities of all parties to fully engage are important to address. Examples of how we do this in the Pilbara include supporting groups to build technical capacity and funding additional positions in Prescribed Body Corporates.

See our Communities and Social Performance Disclosure Report 2022 for details.

Yindjibarndi agreement

Modernising our agreements

Our partnership with Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation

In November 2022 we signed an updated agreement with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) aimed at strengthening ties and delivering improved social and economic outcomes for the Yindjibarndi people for generations to come.

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The updated agreement, delivered as part of our commitment to modernise our relationships with Traditional Owners, reflects a deeper commitment to work together to create more opportunities for Yindjibarndi people to participate in Rio Tinto’s operations, including direct and indirect employment opportunities, and build sustainable long-term benefits to the community.

Part of the agreement includes support for YAC to deliver the outcomes of its 3C strategy, which is focussed on developing Community, Commercial and Culture projects and programmes to assist YAC to fulfil its aspirations of self-determination. These programs support the Yindjibarndi people's aspirations to build capacity and capability, as well as support initiatives that will preserve, sustain and celebrate culture.

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 around 500 Communities and Social Performance professionals working on 60 operations in 41 countries (compared with 250 professionals in 2020).

Our global Communities and Social Performance Area of Expertise supports and complements our asset-based teams by monitoring and sharing external societal trends, developing standards, systems and risk and assurance processes, building capability, and providing strategic and technical subject matter advice.

4. Empowering

We have increased the technical capability and resourcing of our Cultural Heritage teams to build understanding and delivery of cultural heritage management.

In our Iron Ore business, our Cultural Heritage team provides specialist support to our operations and the broader business. This includes listening and learning from Traditional Owners and ensuring cultural values are understood and incorporated into our operational practices.

We have increased front-line leader presence at Traditional Owner consultations and surveys so leaders can hear Traditional Owner knowledge first-hand, ensuring it will be factored into the way we operate in an area.

5. Improving our governance, planning and systems

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.In June 2021, Environmental Resources Management (ERM) was engaged to conduct independent cultural heritage management audits across our business globally. They conducted audits at Australian assets in 2021 and during 2022 the focus has been on assets outside Australia. ERM has published a summary of insights and common findings from our Australian businesses (see pages 14-15 in our Communities and Social performance Disclosure Report 2022). The insights from the independent audit have informed reviews of our Communities and Social Performance Standard, the Cultural Heritage Management Group Procedure and guidance documentation.

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 2020, we made a US$50 million investment to fast-track Indigenous Australians into professional and leadership roles to ensure that we have a stronger representation of diverse voices at our decision-making tables across all our businesses in Australia. The investment has enabled us to increase the number of Australian Indigenous leaders in our business nearly seven-fold since November 2020 through internal promotion and recruitment.

7. Increasing Indigenous leadership and developing cultural competency

More than 200 Indigenous employees across our Australian business have enrolled in a professional leadership programme as part of our commitment to developing Indigenous employees and elevating Indigenous voices.

We want all our leaders to be culturally competent and successfully navigate across the various cultures they operate in. The Cultural Connection Programme has been launched to ensure that leaders have a good understanding of Indigenous culture and know how to build strong, trusted relationships with the Indigenous community and Indigenous employees. In Australia, more than 85% of our senior leaders have completed this programme.

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

Our Integrated Heritage Management Process (IHMP) embeds heritage considerations throughout the mine development process, from early resource planning and studies through to closure. The process clarifies leadership accountability to inform field teams about heritage sites and management controls.

We have upgraded our heritage data management systems to ensure that we effectively record knowledge gained through our cultural heritage assessment processes with Traditional Owners.

9. Establishing an Australian Advisory Group

The Australian Advisory Group (AAG) was established in February 2022 and it includes the inaugural Chairperson, Professor Peter Yu, along with Michelle Deshong, Nyadol Nyuon, Yarlalu Thomas, Djawa Yunupingu, Cris Parker and Shona Reid.

The AAG has assumed an expanded scope to the original commitment to establish an Indigenous Advisory group and provides guidance on current and emerging issues that are important to both Australian communities and our broader business.

10. and 11. Increasing consultation and engagement

Following the release of the Everyday Respect Report in February 2022, we met with civil society organisations, investors, government and other partners to share the report findings and discuss the pathway forward.

We are challenging ourselves to be more transparent, sharing not only the good news stories but the ones that identify areas for improvement. We have focused on keeping stakeholders updated on our progress to improve cultural heritage management and protections, including the modernisation of agreements.

Within the Australian business, we have increased engagement with employees, including holding yarning circles, networking sessions and learning events with key themes such as truth-telling and history. Engagement with Indigenous employees has increased by introducing Indigenous employee-specific webinars, including quarterly sessions with Kellie Parker, our Chief Executive Australia.

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 Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura 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 Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura 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.