In May 2020, Rio Tinto, an Anglo-Australian multinational mining company and the world’s biggest iron ore miner, destroyed two ancient caves in Pilbara, Western Australia. The decision sparked widespread condemnation from shareholders and the public.
The caves in question were the Juukan Gorge rock shelters, which were regarded as one of Australia’s most significant archaeological research sites because they showed evidence of continuous human habitation dating back 46,000 years. The blasting of the Juukan Gorge was legally sanctioned as part of a long-planned expansion of Rio Tinto’s Brockman 4 iron ore mine but was opposed by local populations, including the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples.
On 11 September 2020, Rio Tinto’s Board announced that its Chief Executive, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, would be leaving the company. The Board stated that Jacques would stay as chief executive until the appointment of his successor, or until 31 March 2021. Two other senior executives, the heads of Rio Tinto’s iron ore and corporate relations divisions, will also leave the company at the end of the year.
Australia’s Parliament is expected to hold an inquiry into the company’s actions. Rio Tinto also held its own inquiry earlier this year, after which the company cut bonuses for its directors and began attempts at repairing relations with Australia’s aboriginal communities.
Rio Tinto has issued a public apology and has announced its determination to ensure such destruction of archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again.