Simon Thompson will quit his position as chairman of Rio Tinto next year after deciding to scrap his re-election bid as a non-executive director at the company's 2022 annual general meeting, the company said Wednesday.
Thompson is resigning after bowing to pressure over the board's initial response to the destruction of two ancient Aboriginal rock shelters at Western Australia's Juukan Gorge.
Rio Tinto non-executive director Michael L'Estrange is also retiring from the board after this year's general meetings, the company said in a statement.
The destruction of the 46,000-year-old shelters triggered public and investor commotion that resulted in the departure of chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two of his deputies.
"I'm ultimately responsible for the failings that led to this tragic event," The Canberra Times quoted Thompson as saying on Wednesday.
Rio blew up the caves to extract high-grade iron ore worth around $188 million. The incident dealt a crippling blow to traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, and sparked a major global backlash.
The blasting of the Juukan Gorge was done legally and as part of a long-planned expansion of Rio's Brockman 4 iron ore mine, but it went against the wishes of the the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people, the Sydney Morning Herald said.
In 2020, Rio's board picked Danish entrepreneur Jakob Stausholm to replace Jacques, though some Australian investors wanted a leader with strong experience on domestic Indigenous issues.
The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors was happy with the board transition in acknowledging "accountability for cultural and operational failures," which ACSI said also offered an opportunity for board renewal.