MAC: Mines and Communities

The options Rio Tinto didn't follow

Published by MAC on 2020-08-07
Source: Reuters

- Gaining "riches" at massive reputational loss

Rio Tinto didn't inform cave blast owners of other mine plans: CEO

By Melanie Burton


7 August 2020

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Rio Tinto did not tell Aboriginal traditional
owners of two ancient caves destroyed to mine iron ore about three
alternative mine plans, its CEO told an inquiry on Friday, despite
saying it had won fully informed consent for blasting.

Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques faced an Australian Senate inquiry
after the miner in late May legally destroyed the sacred caves which sat
atop a high grade ore body it planned to mine, against the wishes of the
traditional owners.

The destruction of the sites, which showed evidence of 46,000 years of
human habitation, fuelled a public furore and became a facet of Black
Lives Matter protests in Australia, sparking the parliamentary inquiry.

Jacques, who apologised at the start of the hearing for the destruction
of the site, said the company had four options for its mine plan and
chose the most valuable one, which gave it access to $135 million of ore.

"The difference between option 4 and the other three options was in the
vicinity of 8 million tonnes of high grade iron ore. The economic value
at the time of the decision ... was around $135 million of net present
value," he said.

Jacques also confirmed that the Puutu Kunti, Kurama and Pinikura (PKKP)
people were not made aware that the iron ore giant had considered three
other mine plans, but were only presented with the option that would
destroy the caves.

"How could it be possibly be seen that they were given free, prior and
informed consent under those circumstances?" Senator Warren Snowden asked.

Rio had said in a submission to the inquiry that it believed it had
obtained free, prior and informed consent from the PKKP, a United
Nations-backed principle on the rights of indigenous peoples that the
miner has pledged to uphold.

Jacques told the inquiry there was no doubt the company could have made
better decisions.

"This is a defining moment for Rio Tinto. We are absolutely committed to
learn and change," he said.

He stopped short of explicitly committing to absolve traditional owner
groups from historic agreements that restrict them from publicly
objecting to mining development on their land.

Critics say such agreements, which are widespread in Western Australia,
mean traditional owners are unable to raise concerns when government
officials call for public objections to inform their decisions over
whether to allow a site to be destroyed.

Rio Tinto, which has faced criticism from major shareholders over the
blasts, is conducting its own independent board review into the
incident, due to be completed in October. It has pledged to make the
findings public.

The Senate inquiry chairman Warren Entsch indicated that Rio would
likely be called back to a later hearing.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton. Additional reporting by Sonali Paul;
editing by Jane Wardell and Richard Pullin)

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