LONDON, RAW – Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto says Simon Thompson will step down as chairman next year after deciding not to seek re-election as a non-executive director at its 2022 annual general meeting.
Analysts said last month Thompson would likely face increasing pressure over the board’s handling of the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia’s Pilbara region last year, after an Indigenous group accused him of breaking a personal promise.
The destruction of the 46,000-year-old shelters sparked public and investor uproar that led to the resignation of CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two deputies.
“I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event,” Thompson said on Wednesday.
Non-executive director Michael L’Estrange, who produced a highly criticised internal report into Juukan, would also retire after this year’s AGM, Rio said.
The miner last month outlined a revamped cultural heritage management process, acknowledging its destruction of the sacred site had badly damaged its standing among stakeholders and its employees.
Rio blew up the 46,000-year-old caves to extract $188 million worth of high-grade iron ore.
The incident devastated traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, and prompted enormous global backlash.
Rio nonetheless posted its best annual earnings since 2011 and declared a record dividend on the back of strong commodity prices.
Thompson has previously said the board noted those involved in the debacle “did not deliberately cause the events to happen, they did not do anything unlawful, nor did they engage in fraudulent or dishonest behaviour or wilfully neglect their duties”.