Bosses lose bonuses over Aboriginal cave blast

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Juukan Gorge cave site before and after mining worksImage copyright

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Juukan Gorge cave site: Top – before mining (2 June 2013); Bottom: just before destruction (15 May 2020)

Mining giant Rio Tinto has cut the bonuses of three executives over the destruction of two ancient caves in Australia.

In May, the world’s biggest iron ore miner destroyed the sacred Aboriginal sites in Pilbara, Western Australia.

The company went ahead with the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters despite the opposition of Aboriginal traditional owners.

They were among the oldest historic sites in Australia.

The caves showed evidence of continuous human habitation dating back 46,000 years.

Rio Tinto’s chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques will lose a total of £2.7m. Chris Salisbury, chief executive of iron ore, and Simone Niven, group executive of corporate relations, will now not receive payouts of more than half a million pounds each.

The company said it would provide more details on the bonus cuts in its 2020 remuneration report.

The sites were above about eight-million tonnes of high-grade iron ore, with an estimated value at the time of £75m.

“We will implement important new measures and governance to ensure we do not repeat what happened at Juukan Gorge and we will continue our work to rebuild trust with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people,” Rio Tinto’s chairman Simon Thompson said in a statement.

The review found that while the company had obtained legal authority for the blasts, the decision fell short of the standards and internal guidance Rio Tinto had set for itself.

It also found that the firm had failed to properly engage with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama people (PKKP), the traditional owners of the site.

After the caves were destroyed, a PKKP representative, John Ashburton, said losing the site was a “devastating blow”.

“There are less than a handful of known Aboriginal sites in Australia that are as old as this one… its importance cannot be underestimated,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

“Our people are deeply troubled and saddened by the destruction of these rock shelters and are grieving the loss of connection to our ancestors as well as our land.”

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Media captionMiriwoong: The Australian language which barely anybody speaks

Mr Salisbury apologised for the company’s actions at the time: “We are sorry for the distress we have caused.”

“We pay our respects to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People,” he added.

The BBC has contacted the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation for comment on today’s announcement.

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