Rio Tinto bosses duck shareholdersPublished by MAC on 2003-04-18
Melbourne Age, Australia
Friday 18 April 2003
Angry Rio Tinto shareholders blasted independent director Sir Richard Sykes for reportedly saying small shareholders should be excluded from company annual general meetings.
The attack on Sir Richard, the chairman of the Anglo-Australian mining company's remuneration committee, came at the company's annual general meeting in London.
At the meeting, shareholders also queried a 22 per cent pay rise to non-executive directors, the lack of contingency funding for potential lawsuits and the safety of projects in the United States and Papua New Guinea.
Rio Tinto chairman Sir Robert Wilson refused to allow shareholders to question Sir Richard directly at the meeting, saying his comments were not related to company business.
He also defended the rise in pay for non-executive directors from STG46,000-a-year to STG56,000 ($A119,050 to $A144,925) as necessary given increasing potential for board members to be sued in the post-Enron business environment.
"The burden and demands and potential liability has risen sharply and this company has had to address the question of whether fees need to be raised appropriately," he said.
"What you're seeing here you will see reflected in other companies in years to come."
Sir Robert repeated his promise not to go ahead with the Jabiluka uranium mine without the consent of the traditional owners, the Mirrar people, and said it would not be forgotten when he retires this October.
"This commitment doesn't disappear with my retirement," he said.
"The question of putting a clear commitment into legal form is, I understand, under discussion."
The board denied it was ignoring potential court cases involving environmental damage and human health problems caused by its past activities in places ranging from the north England city of Hull to Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.
"There are a number of court cases around at any one time but the opinion of the board is that they don't represent a significant risk," finance director Guy Elliott said.