Australian Indigenous and human rights organisations have demanded the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) renounce mining company Rio Tinto from its list of companies that honour human rights.
Thirty-five organisations — including the Human Rights Law Centre and Kimberley Land Council — claim the world’s biggest iron ore miner should no longer be regarded a human rights champion after it demolished two Indigenous shelters in Western Australia during a state approved mine expansion.
The Juukan Gorge cave, destroyed by Rio Tinto on May 24, was 46,000 years old and famously known as the only inland site in Australia to show human occupation that continued through the last Ice Age.
The two shelters within the cave have been regarded as incredibly culturally significant by their traditional custodians, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP), for thousands of years.
Rio Tinto claims the cave’s destruction was a “misunderstanding.”
“For Rio Tinto to claim the blast was a ‘misunderstanding’ is highly insulting to the Traditional Owners, and to all Aboriginal people who have fought so hard for rights over their land,” Kimberley Land Council CEO Nolan Hunter told The Australian. “[It shows] a total lack of regard for their obligations to the PKKP people and their human rights obligations as an international company operating in Australia.”
Thirty-five Aboriginal and human rights organisations have signed a letter calling for @RioTinto to be removed from a list of global companies that respect human rights. #JuukanGorgehttps://t.co/t1DiTmpDAS— Human Rights Law Centre (@rightsagenda) July 9, 2020
The CHRB ranks companies based on a set of human rights indicators.
The not-for-profit’s 2019 Benchmark rated 200 of the largest publicly traded companies and placed Rio Tinto in second place, behind Adidas. Rio Tinto was the highest-rated company among the extractive industry — scoring 20.5 out of 25 in the respect and due diligence category and 7.5 out of 10 for transparency.
On Thursday, CHRB released a statement in response to the outcry.
The statement, which can be downloaded off the CHRB website, acknowledges and “condemns the destruction of invaluable cultural heritage at Juukan Gorge.”
"CHRB and the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) condemn the destruction of invaluable cultural heritage at Juukan Gorge,” the declaration reads. “CHRB and WBA call on Rio Tinto to take appropriate action to carry out an independent investigation of the incident, involving affected stakeholders, to provide effective remedy and to prevent similar impacts in the future, in Australia and elsewhere.”
The statement has been added to Rio Tinto’s listing in the 2019 Benchmark Report.
Alongside removing Rio Tinto’s status, Australian Indigenous and human rights organisations have called for heritage laws to be strengthened and robust policies enacted to further protect sacred sites across the country.