FILE PHOTO: A sign adorns the building where mining company Rio Tinto has their office in Perth, Western Australia, November 19, 2015.   REUTERS/David Gray
A sign adorns the building where mining company Rio Tinto has their office in Perth, Western Australia

Reuters

  • Jean-Sébastien Jacques, Rio Tinto’s chief executive, is stepping down following the backlash over the firm’s destruction of 46,000 year-old indigenious caves in western Australia.
  • The mining company is on the hunt for another CEO to replace Jacques. Two other senior executives will depart by the end of this year.
  • Rio Tinto chairman said in a statement that the company is determined to regain the trust of the indigenous people and “reestablish its reputation as a leader in communities and heritage management.”
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Mining giant Rio Tinto announced on Friday that CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques will leave the firm along with two other senior executives, following the outcry over its destruction of two ancient caves in Australia that were considered sacred by indigenous people.

Jacques, who has headed the Anglo-Australian firm since 2016, will remain chief executive until the end of March 2021 or until the company finds a replacement. The decision was "mutual," the company said. Chris Salisbury, iron ore chief and Simone Niven, head of the unit responsible for indigenous communities, will also leave at the end of the year.

In May, Rio Tinto blew up the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in the Pilbara region of western Australia to expand its iron ore reserves despite locals, known as the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, fighting to protect the site. Although the destruction was legal, the caves were considered a site of importance, containing artifacts dating back to 46,000.

"What happened at Juukan was wrong and we are determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation," chairman Simon Thompsoni said in a statement on Friday. The company wants to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, he said, adding that it wants to "reestablish its reputation as a leader in communities and heritage management."

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

Jacques apologised for the demolition of the caves at an Australian Senate enquiry in June, saying that the mining company could have done better.

Since then, the Western Australian government has said it will update indigenous heritage laws to prevent mining companies from blowing up sacred sites.

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