Rio Tinto Destroys Archaeological Site in Western Australia

I was originally tempted to post this in the Failures & Disasters category, but I think this is the better place for it.

Marketwatch: Rio Tinto Blew Up Ancient Caves

A few quick details

  • The company’s own heritage team requested a delay to the project because the archaeological site was a known obstacle
  • They had at least 3 other options for accessing some of the ore in the area, though understandably, more expensive and less profitable than blasting the site
  • They are supposed to work with the indigenous peoples when situations like this arise, but they failed to present the alternatives to the two relevant.

But instead the decision was made to blast it. It seems to me like it was a calculated move and they decided to act now and “ask for forgiveness” later (ie. pay some fines, make a show of their “sincere” apology, and pretend to make amends)

I feel like this should be considered criminal, but I’m curious if there is an argument for whether this action isn’t as unethical as it seems on the surface.

I agree that they should have consulted with the people affected by the decision to blast this heritage site. A hearing should be held to determine whether or not the company or its executives committed a criminal act and what the penalty should be. Docking the CEO a large bonus does not seem to me to be suitable compensation.


One problem is that there’s no “qualification” for being an executive on a corporation. Some are chartered accountants but I’ve never heard of a CA having their permit to practice pulled for ruining someone’s home.

An engineer whose actions break their ethical code can be fined or have their license pulled. No more practice and its a powerful restraint to many of us.

Seems like this would depend a bit on the Australian laws on heritage sites, archaeology, etc.
Did Rio Tinto “own” the land, etc. and have legal right to do what they wished? Or is there a local or country law that limits altering or destroying such things even when on “owned” land?

Or was this a mineral lease and the terms of the lease agreement allowed them to do what they wished and put the onus on the property owner to step in and stop actions like this?

As per the above, it is obvious I know nothing about the local laws there. But I do agree that this seems very unethical and perhaps a calculated action based on the perceived importance of the caves in the minds of the general public.

Update from BBC News: Rio Tinto Chief Jean-Sebastion Jacques To Quit Over Aboriginal Cave Destruction

Before and after images of the site

Excerpts from article:

Last month, Rio Tinto said it had cut Mr Jacques’ bonus by £2.7m. It also said Chris Salisbury, chief executive of iron ore, and Simone Niven, group executive of corporate relations, would lose more than half a million pounds each.
But Tom Stevenson, investment director at Fidelity International, said Rio Tinto’s actions had been “slow and misguided”.
“It was slow because when it knew the significance of those sites it could have reversed its position and it didn’t,” he said.
“And it is misguided because when it cut bonuses recently it effectively put a price on something which is basically priceless and I think that that was tin-eared really. I’m not surprised that we’ve moved onto this stage where the chief executive felt that he had to go.”

Last month Mr Jacques and two senior executives were stripped of their multimillion-dollar bonuses for 2020. The move seemed to have backfired.

Many saw cutting the pay of already very high-earning executives as showing a clear lack of touch, and nowhere near a satisfactory retribution for those responsible for overseeing community relations.

Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said that the mining giant was determined to regain the trust of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and other traditional owners.

But given how they’ve handled this scandal, it’s hard to see that happening any time soon.

And now this: Mining Firm BHP Halts Plan to Disturb Aboriginal Sites After Outcry

At least it appears this may not have occurred in a vacuum and light is being shed on operations like this.