Mining giant Rio Tinto announced a new chief executive on Thursday, months after the previous boss resigned following the destruction of a former Australian Aboriginal heritage site.
A public backlash and investor revolt forced Rio Tinto’s CEO and two senior officials to resign in September after the company destroyed a sacred site in Juukan Gorge in the remote Pilbara region, one of the first known places inhabited by indigenous peoples of Australia.
New CEO Jakob Stausholm highlighted the “difficult times we faced in 2020” in a statement.
“I am also very aware of the need to restore trust with the traditional owners and our other stakeholders, which I see as a key priority for the company,” he added.
The site contained some of the oldest Aboriginal artifacts ever found in Australia and was considered sacred by the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) indigenous peoples of Western Australia.
Although Rio Tinto obtained permission from the state government to detonate the area, the PKKP said it warned that the placement of certain explosives would destroy two heritage rock shelters.
An ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the destruction recommended that the mining company pay restitution to the PKKP, rebuild the destroyed site and commit to a permanent moratorium on mining in the region.
The preliminary report also recommended that all mining companies operating in Western Australia review agreements with indigenous traditional landowners and halt any planned destruction of heritage sites until legal protections are strengthened.
Stausholm, who has been Executive Director and CFO of the company since 2018, will take up his new role from January 1, 2021.
al / qan