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7 Jul 2020

Joe Aston, Financial Times

Marcia Langton knocks back Rio Tinto approach

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8 July 2020

We wondered [...] why Rio Tinto had announced its "board-led review" [...] would be led solely by independent non-executive director Michael L'Estrange, when Rio staff were explicitly told in a June 10 internal briefing that a review "with significant board oversight" would be conducted "with an Indigenous leader".

...[T]he company promised its devastated employees a bona fide investigation steered by an eminent Aboriginal person but [...] advised the London and Australian stock exchanges it would merely "seek input" from and "be informed through engagement with Indigenous leaders" (plural!). In one deft contrivance, Rio Tinto downgraded its dedicated inspector to a nameless committee.


[...] [W]hy has the disgraced resources giant backpedalled from its originally gung-ho intention to secure the buy-in of a prominent black leader?

Well, that might be because Rio Tinto asked the highly respected and forthright Indigenous academic Marcia Langton to preside over the inquiry with L'Estrange, and she told the company to get stuffed.


As another anthropologist, Rio's original cultural heritage boss Professor Glynn Cochrane, told Radio National on June 19: "It's been a source of some puzzlement to me – and I still don't understand it – why social specialists should really be reporting to public relations." [...] "I cannot think it gives a very good signal to investors, the world, the public and even to employees themselves when you make public relations the most important thing in social performance."

Langton's refusal to co-lead its review would suggest she also recognises that Rio Tinto's present leaders set no great store by the organisation's social performance.