PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Diversified miner Rio Tinto has revealed how it will work in partnership with Traditional Owners, host communities and independent groups to strengthen and improve its approach to cultural heritage and community relations, following the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in the Pilbara last year.
The miner on Tuesday unveiled that it would use virtual seminars, which would include presentations from board and executive committee members as well as experts in the field, to outline actions it had introduced to strengthen its performance and governance of cultural heritage following the incident in May of last year, and outline the steps it would take to further improve its performance.
One key step was the confirmation that an Indigenous Advisory Group (IAG) would be established to ensure Rio had a better understanding of Indigenous culture and issues in Australia, including at board level, the miner said.
It follows broad consultation with Traditional Owners and Indigenous leaders with the aim to introduce more diversity and breadth of views, including external perspective, in decision-making.
Rio has also commenced work to review and re-define what is best practice for cultural heritage management in the mining industry. This work will be done in consultation with the IAG and other independent parties and will enable Rio to identify gaps in current protocols and provide a clear pathway to re-establish trust over time and regain Rio’s previous standing in this area.
“We have reflected a great deal as a company and leadership team over recent months – listening, learning and responding by taking actions to better manage Traditional Owner partnerships and cultural heritage aspects of our business,” CEO Jakob Stausholm said.
“One thing is clear – building meaningful and trusting relationships is fundamental. And that starts with Traditional Owners. We must focus on real engagement with our communities, understanding their felt experience and never forgetting that, ultimately, we are guests on their land. And, as guests, we must respect our hosts and work with them to understand their priorities and concerns and minimise our impacts.
“We also must remember that our stay is temporary. We need to ensure we leave a positive legacy. This is essential to our business. We are committed to doing the right thing and working with our hosts to earn the right to be a trusted partner once more.”
As part of Rio Tinto’s efforts to increase transparency in its approach to cultural heritage, the miner has also committed to additional disclosures on the progress of heritage measures being undertaken.
The company is also engaging with a number of global investors and investor groups to jointly identify additional disclosures on progress against Rio’s own commitments and internal workstreams, how Traditional Owner’s views are being considered, enhanced governance arrangements to oversee the company’s progress and how the company is working to advocate for enhanced sector-wide cultural heritage management.
Rio’s investors have welcomed the company’s announcement on new disclosures and governance oversight measures, with Australian industry superannuation fund HESTA saying investors have put forward very clear requests around what disclosure and governance arrangements are needed to ensure a repeat of the heritage destruction does not happen.
“It’s pleasing that we’ve had constructive discussions with Rio Tinto that can support progress towards managing this clear financial risk for investors. The steps the company has agreed to will support broader improvements in practices, disclosure and oversight urgently needed across the mining sector,” said HESTA CEO Debby Blakey.
“Rio is at the start of a very long process of rebuilding trust. It will require long-term commitment to deep-seated cultural change and strong frameworks and processes in place to support genuine, open and ongoing partnership with Indigenous communities, no matter who is in management or board roles.”