$14 trillion investor alliance warns Aussie mining companies

Believe it or not, they actually needed to be told to stop blowing up historically significant 46,000-year-old sites.

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A group that manages $14 trillion worth of investments has put Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) and other mining companies on notice.

In a letter sent on Thursday, the group warned that it required confidence in how the companies liaised with Indigenous land owners to manage risk for its long-term investments.

The correspondence came after Rio Tinto in May blew up Juukan Gorge in Western Australia, which displayed historical and cultural evidence of human habitation going back 46,000 years.

“The recent tragic and irreversible destruction of First Nations sites of cultural and archaeological significance in the Juukan Gorge, in Australia, highlights the consequences for communities, companies and investors when relations with communities are not adequately managed,” the letter reads. 

“This in turn calls into question the social license of a company to operate.”

Who sent the letter?

The investors’ group included international giants like the Church of England Pensions Board, AXA IM and Council of Ethics for the Swedish National Pension Funds. Local signatories included large superannuation funds like HESTA, Australian Super and Cbus.

ASX-listed recipients included Rio Tinto, BHP Group Ltd (ASX: BHP), Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX: FMG) and Newcrest Mining Limited (ASX: NCM).

Church of England Pensions Board ethics & engagement director Adam Matthews said each time an adverse event happens, it casts a shadow over the entire industry.

“As with the issue of tailings dam safety a single event has exposed a systemic issue across the mining sector.”

HESTA chief Debby Blakey said the Juukan Gorge tragedy was “a wake-up call” for investors small and large.

“It’s critical companies and investors who are making long-term decisions manage risks associated with indigenous heritage protection appropriately,” she said. 

“Not only so we can mitigate financial risk for our members’ investments, but also so we can ensure there are fair and sustainable outcomes for indigenous communities and companies.”

Failure to protect culturally significant sites is a “material investment risk”, said Australian Council of Superannuation Investors chief Louise Davidson.

“The events of Juukan Gorge have identified a significant failing in the way Rio Tinto managed its relationship with traditional owners,” she said.

“We want to understand how companies across the industry are managing these risks and working to ensure that a disaster like the Juukan Gorge never happens again.”

Rio Tinto initially stripped $7 million of bonuses from 3 executives. But after investor pressure all 3 departed the company, albeit with golden handshakes worth millions of dollars.

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