Church of England Pensions Board urges Rio Tinto to rethink cave destruction response

The Church of England Pensions Board has urged Rio Tinto to rethink its response to the devastation of a 46,000-year-old historic Aboriginal site in Western Australia.

The Church of England Pensions Board director of ethics and engagement, Adam Matthews, told the BBC’s Today programme that he had informed the FTSE 100-listed miner that it was "clear investors don't feel the measures the board has currently outlined are significant".

A review conducted by the mining giant in August determined that chief executive, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, chairman, Simon Thompson, and corporate relations group executive, Simone Niven, would each lose out on bonuses of more than £0.5m.

Matthews added that the incident had left Rio Tinto in "a dreadful position" and said an inquiry into the incident had revealed a “litany of mistakes” had led to the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves.

The Church of England Pension Fund holds a small stake in the mining giant.

The caves are situated in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and are one of the oldest historical sites in the country, with evidence of human habitation stretching back for 46,000 years.

Although Rio Tinto had obtained legal authority for the blasts which destroyed the caves, the company’s own review into the incident found that it had not properly engaged with the site’s traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama people.

Rio Tinto’s board will meet at a board meeting on Thursday in what Matthews called a “test” of the company’s response to criticism, while he also noted that there had been “some disquiet” among directors.

Reports suggest that the meeting could decide the future of Jacques amid growing shareholder pressure.

The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) has been among other investors to turn up the heat on the mining giant since the incident, calling Rio Tinto’s decision to cut the senior executives’ bonuses “a good first step” but also calling for “a proportionate response” based on all evidence available.

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors was less satisfied, stating that directors' accountability must go "further than just a financial penalty".

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