Australian mining company Rio Tinto has officially appointed former Western Australian Treasurer and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt as a non-executive director.
Wyatt has family links to the Pilbara and 15 years of experience in state parliament, as well as a career as a barrister and solicitor. He is the first Aboriginal to hold the position and has been employed by Rio Tinto to improve the company’s relationships with its Indigenous communities and key stakeholders.
“Ben’s knowledge of public policy, finance, international trade and Indigenous affairs will significantly add to the depth of knowledge on the board at a time when we are seeking to strengthen relationships with key stakeholders in Australia and around the world,” said Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson as reported by Australian Mining.
Hiring Wyatt in this position is an extremely progressive reaction from Rio Tinto, given that as Minister, Wyatt slammed the mining company for blasting 46,000-year-old sacred rock shelters in Western Australia’s Pilbara region in May last year.
Known as the “Juukan Gorge disaster”, Rio Tinto deliberately destroyed Juukan Gorge, housing a cave that was the only inland site in Australia to show signs of continuous human occupation for over 46,000 years. The mining company destroyed the gorge as a part of an iron ore exploration project.
Back then, Mr Wyatt said Rio Tinto was “fearful” of engaging with communities in the region and suggested the company had little understanding of the necessary relationships it needed to forge with locals.
In response, it seems that Rio Tinto has taken Wyatt’s criticism seriously and are taking action to implement new systems and adopt a more culturally respectful mindset.
In a statement released by Rio Tinto on Friday, Wyatt said he was confident the company was taking steps in the right direction.
“I was deeply saddened and disappointed by the events at Juukan Gorge but I am convinced that Rio Tinto is committed to changing its approach to cultural heritage issues and restoring its reputation, particularly in Australia and Western Australia,” he said.
“I am looking forward to working with the board in building on the momentum for change generated by the new leadership team.”
Rio Tinto announced that Wyatt will be joining the board on September 1, 2021.
This comes after the Wyatt left politics at the 2021 WA election, after postponing his retirement due to the need for his services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
As well as joining the Rio Tinto board in September, has also recently become a non-executive director of Woodside Petroleum.
There is something really uplifting about news like this. We’re pretty aware that big corporate companies often don’t have a thorough understanding of different cultures. However, in a market of increasingly conscious consumers, the need for cultural education and respect is greater than ever before.
By employing people to deconstruct the dated frameworks, that undermine — or don’t acknowledge — Indigenous culture, it’s an official, corporate way of changing the conversation.
We need more of this.