(Recasts and updates throughout with more detail, activist investor comment)
MELBOURNE, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Rio Tinto on Thursday named a new head of its iron ore division as part of a leadership reshuffle as it works to rebuild partnerships with Indigenous groups after the global miner destroyed ancient, sacred caves in Australia.
Global Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm, who was appointed in December after several executives left in response to the caves blast in May, has vowed to take a more inclusive approach and repair relationships with Aboriginal groups.
Chief Commercial Officer Simon Trott will head the Australian iron ore business, the company said, moving back to Western Australia from Singapore where he ran the company’s marketing division. Iron ore makes up nearly 80% of Rio’s total underlying earnings.
Arnaud Soirat, head of Rio’s copper & diamonds business, was appointed to the newly created role of chief operating officer for a fixed 18-month term before he retires.
Rio also on Thursday named long-time executive Kellie Parker as chief executive, Australia, with a remit to “focus on rebuilding trust and strengthening external relationships across Australia.”
Rio’s destruction of two rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge, one of which showed evidence of continual human habitation dating back 46,000 years, was legal but deeply distressed the traditional owners and led to a public outcry.
Some investors were unimpressed with Rio’s initial board-led review into the incident because it failed to find any single person accountable.
“Deep cultural change is needed at Rio Tinto,” said Brynn O’Brien, executive director of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR).
“Shareholder reservations about board competency remain, and we expect that investors will be looking to the company’s AGM in May as an opportunity for renewal.”
Investors will also be monitoring how the new leadership team manages issues at its Resolution Copper project in Arizona, which encompasses sites sacred to the Apache people, and legacy pollution from a copper mine in Bougainville, ACCR said.
Rio said it will retain the current four product groups in Australia - aluminium, copper, iron ore, and minerals - and appointed separate heads for each unit. (Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi in Bengaluru and Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Jane Wardell)