Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques is stepping down from his role following a board review of the company’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in the Pilbara, Western Australia.
Jacques has mutually agreed with Rio Tinto to step down once a successor has been appointed or by March 31 next year, whichever is earlier.
The board review was completed in response to May’s destruction of the ancient rock shelters, which devastated the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People.
Rio Tinto chief executive for iron ore Chris Salisbury will also step down from his role with immediate effect and will leave the company on December 31.
Current managing director for rail, port and core services within Rio Tinto iron ore, Ivan Vella, will replace Salisbury on an interim basis following a handover period.
Simone Niven will step down as group executive for corporate relations, also leaving on December 31 following a transition of her responsibilities.
To enhance board engagement in Australia, non-executive director Simon McKeon has been appointed as Rio Tinto’s senior independent director, a new board role to complement existing senior independent director Sam Laidlaw.
During the review, Rio Tinto engaged with shareholders, Traditional Owners, Indigenous leaders and other significant stakeholders, which expressed concerns about executive accountability for the failings identified.
Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said that the changes to the company’s board and leadership team undermined the group’s ability and desire to rebuild trust with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.
“What happened at Juukan was wrong and we are determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation,” Thompson said.
“We are also determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other Traditional Owners.
“We have listened to our stakeholders’ concerns that a lack of individual accountability undermines the group’s ability to rebuild that trust and to move forward to implement the changes identified in the board review.”
Thompson thanked Jacques, Salisbury and Niven for their contribution to Rio Tinto, including strong leadership skills during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know that all three individuals, like the rest of the board, deeply regret the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters,” Thompson said.
“We are determined to learn the lessons from Juukan and to re-establish our reputation as a leader in communities and heritage management.”