MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto must be declassified, say Aboriginal groups

Published by MAC on 2020-07-09
Source: The Australian

Australian Aboriginal organisations, supported by NGO's, have demanded that Rio Tinto be "black listed", after the company destroyed an historic sacred site, lying in the path of its iron-ore ambitions in May [See: Rio Tinto says "sorry", but doesn't apologise]

They expect that the Dutch-based Corporate Human Rights Benchmark will now eject the company from its global list, on which it had previously been ranked highest for miners.

The media release by the groups is reproduced below.


Call to strip Rio Tinto of global ranking

Victoria Laurie

Senior Reporter

The Australian

8 July 2020


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups have called for Rio Tinto to
be stripped of its status as a global human rights leader, following the
company’s blasting of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal sacred site in the
Pilbara region.

Thirty-five indigenous and human rights groups have sent a letter to the
Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, a global body based in The Netherlands.

The letter, also sent to Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson and chief
executive Jean-­Sebastien Jacques, calls for Rio’s removal from the
Benchmark list, which ranks the company as the highest-ranked miner
globally on human rights issues.

The letter says Rio’s top ranking “is misleading to investors and other
stakeholders who rely on the Benchmark to provide ­robust, credible
information on companies’ human rights records.”

The Benchmark assesses 200 of the world’s largest publicly traded
companies annually against a set of 100 indicators based on the UN Guiding
Principles on Business and Human Rights.

In 2019, it suspended Brazilian mining company Vale from the list after
the dam collapse at the company’s Corrego do Feijao mine in Brazil.

The letter comes after Reconciliation Australia revoked its endorsement of
Rio Tinto in response to its destruction in May of the culturally
sensitive caves on its Brockman iron ore mine site. The caves contained
artefacts indicating tens of thousands of years of continuous human
occupation.

“Rio Tinto has quite literally blown up its social licence to operate as
far as Aboriginal communities are concerned,” said Wayne Bergmann, a
Kimberley Aboriginal leader and signatory to the letter.

Chief executive of the Kimberley Land Council Nolan Hunter said Rio
Tinto’s actions “show a total lack of regard for their obligations to the
Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and their human rights
obligations.”

He said the PKKP had engaged in a seven-year battle to protect the site.
“For Rio Tinto to claim the blast was a misunderstanding is highly
insulting to traditional owners and all Aboriginal people who have fought
so hard for rights over their land.”

Signatories to the letter include indigenous land councils, the Human
Rights Law Centre, Oxfam and international human rights organisations. Rio
was contacted for comment.

Victoria Laurie is a senior reporter and feature writer in the Perth
bureau of The Australian newspaper. A former TV and radio journalist, she
has also been a freelance writer for The Bulletin, The Monthly, HQ


 

Media Release

9 July 2020

Rio Tinto must be stripped of prestigious human rights ranking in light
of Juukan Gorge destruction: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and
human rights organisations/

Today, 35 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and human rights
organisations have called on the global Corporate Human Rights Benchmark
(CHRB), based in the Netherlands, to strip Rio Tinto of its status as a
global human rights leader, following the company’s blasting of a 46,000
year old Aboriginal sacred site in the Pilbara region, Western Australia.

The destruction of the caves at Juukan Gorge in May devastated the
Traditional Owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people,
and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia,
leaving many in disbelief.

Despite global condemnation from the public, media and the company’s own
investors, Rio Tinto is still currently listed on the CHRB’s website as
the highest ranked extractives company globally on human rights issues,
with a score in the second-highest possible band.

Nolan Hunter, CEO of the Kimberley Land Council, said that, “Rio
Tinto’s actions at Juukan Gorge show a total lack of regard for their
obligations to the PKKP people and their human rights obligations as an
international company operating in Australia. The PKKP had already
engaged in a seven-year battle to try to protect the site. For Rio Tinto
to claim the blast was a “misunderstanding” is highly insulting to the
Traditional Owners, and to all Aboriginal people who have fought so hard
for rights over their land.”

Wayne Bergmann, another Kimberley Aboriginal leader and CEO of
Aboriginal charitable trust KRED, commented: “Rio Tinto has quite
literally blown up its social licence to operate as far as Aboriginal
communities are concerned. People who invest in Rio Tinto need to
reconsider if Rio Tinto is worthy of continued investment. We are
calling on the Benchmark to ensure that the company’s human rights
ranking reflects the reality for people here on the ground. Rio Tinto
needs to prove itself as worthy of such standing.”

James Christian PSM, CEO of the NSW Aboriginal Land Counci,
commented: “Across Australia, Aboriginal communities are coming together
to say enough is enough. For far too long, heritage protection regimes
across the Country have simply sanctioned cultural destruction. These
regimes of ruin, presided over by Governments of all persuasions, simply
allow mining companies like Rio Tinto to trample on our rights and
heritage with complete impunity. It is time for our Governments, our
companies, our whole society to value and protect our culture and heritage.”

The organisations are calling on the CHRB to suspend Rio Tinto to help
ensure the company and relevant executives are held to account for their
actions.

Keren Adams, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, which
helped to coordinate the letter, said that Rio Tinto’s actions at Juukan
Gorge were not an aberration, but rather symptomatic of a broader
culture of disregard for communities’ rights and cultural heritage:

“Unfortunately Juukan Gorge is not an isolated incident. In the past few
years, Rio Tinto has been the subject of serious human rights complaints
by communities impacted by its operations in a number of different
countries. We have been working with communities in Bougainville, for
instance, who are also facing destruction of their sacred sites as well
as serious pollution of their land and water sources as a result of the
massive quantities of mine waste left by Rio there. Rio Tinto must
properly acknowledge and address its impacts on communities if it is to
have any hope of resurrecting its reputation as a human rights leader.”

Ms Adams said that Rio Tinto’s high ranking under the benchmark also
demonstrated a clear need for a re-think of how serious human rights
violations are treated by the benchmark.

“Companies use benchmarks like the CHRB to demonstrate their human
rights credentials to investors, governments and the public. If these
ranking systems can’t be relied upon to provide credible, accurate
information, they can become part of the problem, perpetuating the
illusion that everything is fine within a company’s culture when it is
anything but.”

About the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark

The CHRB assesses 200 of the world’s largest publicly-traded companies
annually against a set of 100 indicators based on the United Nations
Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2019, the CHRB
suspended Brazilian mining company Vale from the benchmark following the
devastating dam collapse at the company’s Córrego do Feijão mine in
Brumadinho, Brazil.

Media contacts:

Michelle Bennett, Communications Director, Human Rights Law Centre: 0419
100 519

Shannon Wilson, Media Coordinator, Kimberley Land Council: 0408 436 987

Paul Cochrane, Manager, Media and Communications, NSW Aboriginal Land
Council: 0437 543 626

Keren Adams
Legal Director

Level 17, 461 Bourke St Melbourne VIC 3000 AUSTRALIA

P + 61 3 8636 4433 *│*F + 61 3 8636 4455 *│*www.hrlc.org.au
<http://www.hrlc.org.au/>

 

Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info