Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm is committed to making the protection of cultural heritage an issue that “sits in the hearts and minds” of his employees in an effort to avoid another throat-style disaster. of Juukan.
The mining company announced Tuesday that it would publicly inform investors about its progress in improving cultural heritage systems and renewing trust with traditional owners, as it tries to rebuild its shattered equity capital.
It will also publicly report on its progress in implementing the recommendations of a parliamentary review on the destruction of the 46,000-year-old rock shelter in Juukan Gorge, and the recommendations of its own internal review.
Stausholm said the new executive team “feels very responsible” for ensuring that an event like the destruction of the Juukan Gorge never happens again. The incident led to the resignation of all three top executives, including the former chief executive, and led to the resignation of the president.
But Stausholm said that achieving that goal required changes at the company that went “well beyond procedures.”
“It has to be felt in hearts and minds, in the same way that we have built a culture of safety over decades,” he said at an investor briefing Tuesday morning.
“The most important thing is to make sure that we get this as a value.”
Despite negative publicity and heads rolling at top management, the company reported a 20% increase in profits in 2020 and a record dividend to shareholders of $ 9 billion.
Investors have welcomed the commitment to greater transparency, which was negotiated in negotiations with stakeholders, including the Australian Council of Investors Superannuation (ACSI), AustralianSuper and HESTA.
HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said investors made “very clear requests” around the disclosure and governance agreements and said it was “nice that we have had constructive discussions with Rio Tinto that can support progress towards management of this clear financial risk for investors. “
“The steps the company has agreed to will support broader improvements in practices, disclosure and oversight that are urgently needed throughout the mining sector,” he said. “Rio is at the beginning of a very long process of rebuilding trust. It will require a long-term commitment to deep-rooted cultural change and strong frameworks and processes in place to support a genuine, open, and ongoing partnership with indigenous communities, regardless of who is in management or on the board. “
Louise Davidson, ACSI CEO, said it was “positive” to see Rio Tinto commit to working more closely with traditional owners.
“Investors will continue to collaborate with Rio Tinto and other companies with cultural heritage exposures to understand how they are managing these risks and measuring their commitments,” said Davidson.
Rio pledged to establish an indigenous advisory group, which will work with managers and can report to the board; modernize its approach to negotiating agreements with traditional owners to eliminate confidentiality clauses; and spending $ 50 million to attract and retain indigenous people to work in the business.
The company’s senior advisor on indigenous affairs, Brad Welsh, said the number of indigenous leaders in the organization had doubled in the past year, though only from seven to 15.
Rio also pledged to measure and report on social impact metrics, and to reveal and explain to traditional owners the likely equity impact of the projects, “as part of regaining confidence.”
Megan Clark, non-executive director and chair of Rio’s sustainability committee, said changing cultural management practices to make it an iterative process “would fundamentally change the way we do mining.”
Clark said 1,000 cultural heritage sites in the Pilbara had been reviewed in the past 10 months, and that several sites had been reclassified from cleared for mining to protected.
He said that relationships between traditional owners and Rio’s managers and executives should develop beyond a business relationship in friendships, “where communication channels are open and those relationships are deep and trusting so that something like this never happens again. happen”.
“The only thing that still sticks in my mind as I watch what happened [at Juukan Gorge] And the reason it happened was: where was a quick phone call, where were all those links that could have stopped her at any moment? “She said.” And it is a question that is still there … those relationships with the traditional owners, are as important as the relationships with the prime minister of the countries in which we operate or the president in those countries. And I wonder if we invest the same time in those relationships ”.
National Native Title Council Executive Director Jamie Lowe said investing in those relationships with traditional owners – “I don’t think friendships are the right word” – was essential to rebuilding trust.
“You may have an advisory body that may be at a high level, but relationships with the traditional owners are vital because that is literally where the work happens,” he said. “And you have seen in the Juukan Gorge investigation that those relationships either did not exist or were not respected.
“Then they will speak flash language and have deadly plans for how it will look, but how it will look will be up to the staff. The staff you have is crucial, that’s how you build relationships. “
Lowe said the indigenous advisory group would only be effective if it was given the necessary power and responsibilities.
“If it’s just a peripheral body that meets four times a year, it’s not going to be enough,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism