Rio Tinto neglected good communication with Indigenous groups - executive

Rio Tinto neglected good communication with Indigenous groups - executive

Reuters  | Nov 25, 2020 04:10

Rio Tinto neglected good communication with Indigenous groups - executive

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Global miner Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) neglected deep communications with traditional owners during China's iron ore boom, focusing instead on the technical challenges of ramping up and then shrinking its business, an executive said on Tuesday.

That led to procedural failures and the destruction of sacred rockshelters for a mine expansion in Australia, Steve McIntosh, Rio Tinto's outgoing head of growth and innovation, told a mining conference in Melbourne.

The blasting of two ancient sacred caves in May caused public outcry and the departure of Rio's chief executive and two deputies. A parliamentary inquiry is due to report on the incident on Dec. 9.

"During the China-led boom, the industry grew enormously. You grow a business, iron ore in this case by 350%, is everything going to keep up with that growth? Technically, yes, the company was able to achieve it," he said.

"But clearly in terms of internal systems and processes, because of the size and scale of those businesses ... we've ended up with an issue where we probably became overly transactional and there were clearly breakdowns in communications that need to be fixed."

McIntosh, a respected industry figure credited with Rio's Winu copper find in Western Australia, is on long service leave after announcing his retirement this year. He will depart Rio at year-end following 30 years with the company.

McIntosh headed exploration, working closely with Aboriginal communities during a period when Rio built what was seen as a first-class reputation for dealing with Indigenous Australians.

Rio's leadership legacy should not be viewed through the prism of this one event, he said, given the company's other achievements. Moving forward, all miners must prioritise sustainable development goals, and deal with legacies such as tailings dams.

© Reuters. The Rio Tinto mining company's logo is photographed at their annual general meeting in Sydney

"There are lots of big issues, a company simply just has to get them all right," McIntosh said.

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