Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson has signalled he will step down from his role due to the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia.
Thompson said he is accountable for what led to the destruction of Juukan Gorge, as the company looks to repair its trust with Traditional Owners.
“I am proud of Rio Tinto’s achievements in 2020, including our outstanding response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a second successive fatality-free year, significant progress with our climate change strategy, and strong shareholder return,” he said.
“However, these successes were overshadowed by the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters at the Brockman 4 operations in Australia and, as chairman, I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event.”
Thompson will not seek re-election as a non-executives director after the conclusion of the 2021 annual general meetings (AGMs).
Rio Tinto senior independent director Sam Laidlaw and Rio Tinto senior independent director Simon McKean have been tasked with finding Thompson’s successor.
According to Thompson, the appointment of Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm is part of the company’s “decisive action” across its risk management and governance to avoid a repeat of Juukan Gorge.
“In January, we appointed a new chief executive, Jakob Stausholm, who has moved swiftly to appoint his new executive team and has identified his key priorities to rebuild the trust that we have lost,” he said.
“Throughout my seven years on the Rio Tinto board, I have endeavoured to promote a progressive environmental, social and governance agenda. While I am pleased with the progress we have made in many areas, the tragic events at Juukan Gorge are a source of personal sadness and deep regret, as well as being a clear breach of our values as a company.”
Rio Tinto non-executive director Michael L’Estrange has also announced his retirement at the end of the 2021 AGMs.
“It has been an honour to have had the opportunity to serve on the Rio Tinto board for what will be six and a half years,” L’Estrange said.
“I wish Jakob and the new executive well for the future as they build on Rio Tinto’s many strengths and continue to implement the critical changes aimed at ensuring that an occurrence such as the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters never happens again.”