Rio Tinto executives to resign after destruction of Aboriginal sites

Iron ore being loaded

"Significant stakeholders have expressed concerns about executive accountability for the failings identified", the company said.

Both of the people will be leaving the company at the end of the year.

They sat above about eight million tonnes of high-grade iron ore, with an estimated value of £75m (A$132m; $96m).

He added that the move should be the first step in "ensuring the board is more Australian focused and has a greater sensitivity to the nation and its cultural identity".

Last month, Rio Tinto announced that the three executives would lose a combined $5 million from their bonuses over the destruction of the caves.

Two other executives are also departing: Chris Salisbury, head of the iron ore business, and Simone Niven, group executive for corporate relations.

It was a rare admission that the mining industry, which has long propped up the Australian economy - often at the expense of traditional landowners - had gone too far.

An internal company review in August determined that "a series of decisions, actions and omissions over an extended period of time" preceded the choice to go ahead with the Juukan Gorge blasting despite concerns over the fate of the sacred indigenous site.

"We are also determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other Traditional Owners", Thomson said.

The cultural importance of Juukan Gorge was confirmed by an archaeological dig carried out at one of the caves, known as rock shelters, a year after Rio Tinto obtained approval to blast in the area.

The caves - seen as one of Australia's most significant archaeological research sites - had shown evidence of continuous human habitation dating back 46,000 years.

Rio Tinto results
Jean-Sebastien Jacques was appointed CEO in 2016

"In the past, Indigenous people would have nobody to rely on in the case of vandalism like this", said Noel Pearson, an Indigenous Australian lawyer and land rights activist.

The head of a major Australian mining company steps down after the company destroyed two indigenous holy sites.

The blasts, which enabled Rio to access $135 million of high-grade iron ore, drew global condemnation and damaged the miner's reputation for dealing with indigenous groups in its worldwide operations.

Australia's parliament is now holding an inquiry into the miner's actions.

The activists say that traditional culture and heritage have for too always been subjugated, especially to the mining industry.

"Zoe has the relevant mining background, worldwide management experience, government relationships, acute sensitivity to indigenous and remote community engagement, and strong Australian roots", said one analyst, who declined to be named as he does not cover Rio.

The resignations at Rio Tinto, although a step in the right direction, do nothing to "address the profound inequity in who has rights over decision-making", Lyons added.

The stock of the company was down to 1% in the region of Sydney on Friday.

"It's only the tip of the iceberg", said Jamie Lowe, chief executive of the National Native Title Council in Australia.

Talks with about 75 investors and Indigenous community leaders in the past few weeks made clear that many were unsatisfied with penalties delivered by a board-led inquiry that found no single individual was at fault for the blasts and reprimanded the three senior executives by trimming bonus payments, Thompson said in a phone interview.


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