Rio Tinto appoints Dominic Barton, Canadian Ambassador to China, as President

ADELAIDE, Australia— Rio Tinto RIO -1.35%

PLC said Dominic Barton, Canada’s Ambassador to China, will become its chairman as the mining company works to repair damage to its reputation from the destruction of two old rock shelters in Australia last year.

By selecting Mr Barton, who will succeed Simon Thompson in May, Rio Tinto hopes that the skills of a diplomat can help him tackle challenges that include rising resource nationalism in some key markets and investor demands for that mining companies more aggressively tackle the environmental impact of their operations. Rio Tinto also derives most of its revenue from Australia, which is grappling with a trade and diplomatic dispute with China.

China has imposed heavy tariffs and restrictions on some Australian products, including coal, which Rio Tinto no longer produces. While Rio Tinto’s most profitable raw material, iron ore, has so far not been targeted, Chinese executives have signaled plans to become less dependent on Australian iron ore.

As Ambassador to China, Uganda-born Barton helped secure the September release of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were detained by Beijing in 2018 in a standoff between Canada, the United States and China. They were charged with espionage in what was widely seen as retaliation for Ottawa’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of telecommunications network company Huawei Technologies Co.

Jakob Stausholm, Managing Director of Rio Tinto, said Barton’s experience in business and diplomacy in Asia, including managing complex cross-border relationships, would be an asset to the company.

Mr. Barton spent more than three decades with McKinsey & Co., most notably as a global managing partner and president for Asia. He was also president of the Canadian mining company Teck Resources Ltd.

for one year before his appointment as Ambassador.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this month that Barton will step down from his post in Beijing at the end of the year.

“For the past two years, Dominic has led our team in China with determination, integrity and compassion, and at a time when the relationship between our two countries faced difficult challenges,” Trudeau said at the time. .

Mr Barton joins Rio Tinto as it seeks to decarbonize its operations and take advantage of growing global demand for the commodities needed by a low-carbon economy.

Rio Tinto discovered that no one person or mistake was responsible for the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in northwest Australia, but many investors were unhappy with the findings of the investigation.


Indigenous society PKKP / AFP / Getty Images

Rio Tinto recently pledged to spend $ 7.5 billion to cut emissions from its own operations by 50% this decade, and said it would increase investment in materials such as copper and lithium, which are essential to many low-carbon products, including electric cars.

“I look forward to working with Jakob and the Board of Directors to implement a strategy that places decarbonization at the heart of the business and positions Rio Tinto as a leader in solving complex global problems, while establishing and by maintaining trust with host communities, ”said Barton.

Still, Mr Barton’s appointment to Rio Tinto could disappoint some Australian lawmakers and investors who had urged the mining company to appoint an Australian as chairman. Some investors had argued that the destruction of ancient rock shelters in northwest Australia reflected a lack of knowledge about Australia among Rio Tinto’s top ranks.

The miner this year appointed Ben Wyatt, former Minister of Indigenous Affairs in the State Government of Western Australia, as a non-executive director.

Mr. Thompson will be the fourth senior official to leave Rio Tinto after the demolition of the Juukan Gorge shelters, which contained a mine of artifacts indicating they had been occupied by humans over 46,000 years ago. Jean-Sébastien Jacques was removed from his post as chief executive and two other executives were expelled, with some investors demanding greater responsibility for the disaster.

“I am ultimately responsible for the failures that led to this tragic event,” Thompson said as he announced his resignation plan in March.

In a review of the event, Rio Tinto found that no individual or error was responsible for the destruction of the rock shelters. Many investors were unhappy with the findings of Rio Tinto’s investigation. Australian lawmakers criticized the company’s decision-making, and an Aboriginal leader called the review money laundering.

Mr. Thompson, who has been chairman for four years and a director since 2014, will step down from the board in May, Rio Tinto said.

Write to Rhiannon Hoyle at [email protected]

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