Rio Tinto CEO urges patience in repairing Indigenous ties as iron ore output grows
Mining News Pro - Rio Tinto will need time to rebuild partnerships with Indigenous groups following the company’s destruction of sacred caves in Australia, its new chief executive said on Tuesday in his first quarterly report as CEO.

Jakob Stausholm was appointed in December, replacing Jean-Sébastien Jacques who quit in the wake of a widespread backlash against the company after it blasted the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters to expand an iron ore mine.

Not only does Stausholm have to rebuild relationships with the traditional owners of Juukan Gorge, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP), but now faces a battle with the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona, which wants to block a land swap Rio needs for a long-planned copper mine.

His comments on Tuesday came as the world’s biggest iron ore producer reported a 2.4% rise in fourth-quarter iron ore shipments, helped by industrial activity in China which the company said had returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Stausholm said he wanted to take “a more inclusive approach” with all stakeholders to improve the company’s decision-making and performance.

“However, I do not underestimate the time and effort it will take, genuinely working together with our partners, in order for Rio Tinto to drive the changes necessary to help restore trust and rebuild our reputation,” he said in the company’s fourth-quarter production report.

China’s iron ore imports hit a record high in 2020 as it invested in infrastructure to drive an economic rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

Rio and its peers are banking on continued growth in China, and other countries looking to bolster their battered economies.

“China’s buying remains robust despite ongoing localised impacts from covid-19 in some regions. Demand in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Europe is recovering.”

Rio Tinto shipped 88.9 million tonnes (Mt) of iron ore in the three months to December, up from 86.8 Mt a year earlier and slightly above UBS’ forecast of 88.6 Mt.

It said it expects to ship 325-340 Mt this year, compared with the 331 Mt it shipped in 2020 and a UBS estimate of 337 Mt.

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