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23 Jul 2020

Nick Toscano, The Age

'Gutted': Former Rio Tinto VP says blast threatens decades of progress

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24 July 2020

A former head of Aboriginal relations at Rio Tinto fears the mining giant's destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred site in Western Australia has unravelled decades of work developing close ties with traditional owners and reveals the company has lost its focus.

[...] [F]ormer Rio Tinto vice-president Paul Wand said the miner's actions had caused immense distress to those within the organisation who had worked to establish its industry-leading reputation.


"I was extremely saddened," he said. "There was a company reputation that had been built up and a lot of people had contributed to that reputation, which was a fairly proud reputation ... and it's been lost. I don't know if it's irrevocable but it's certainly very seriously damaged, with one action that I think could have been avoided."


Mr Wand said accountability for Rio Tinto's community relations had been absorbed by the group's external relations in recent years. He said maintaining close ties and regular meetings between the general manager of an operation and host communities were critical in order to avoid failures to understand the wishes of traditional owner groups. "It's not a given that the people who are worried about corporate relations understand the depth and meaning of community relations," he said


In a statement, Rio Tinto said its communities function worked closely with leadership at all levels and included teams based at operations.

"We currently have more than 250 people doing communities work across Rio Tinto at 60 operations and projects in 36 countries. This includes 100 people in our iron ore team in the Pilbara," a spokesman said. "We employ anthropologists, cultural heritage experts, archaeologists and are one of the largest employers of Indigenous peoples."