MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Global miner BHP Group said on Tuesday it reached an agreement with a coalition of Aboriginal land councils over principles for heritage management, a day ahead of a shareholder vote on a related issue at its annual meeting. The agreement follows increased scrutiny on the protection of significant cultural sites after Rio Tinto Ltd legally destroyed a rock shelter showing evidence of 46,000 years of human habitation in Western Australia as part of an iron ore mine expansion in May.
BHP and the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance would identify areas where they could work together to improve standards and practices on cultural heritage, they said in separate statements.
The alliance is made up of Australia’s major Aboriginal Land Councils and Native Title groups.
BHP said the two bodies had determined a set of shared principles, including informed consent in decision making, support for appropriate regulatory regimes and self-determination for Aboriginal peoples.
Alliance Co-Chair Anne Dennis said the group had held productive discussions with BHP.
“We are confident that this process will make a real positive difference to the culture and capabilities of the minerals industry in relation to the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage,” she said.
The uproar over Rio’s destruction of the Juukan caves cost the company’s CEO his job and led to a review by the industry of its practices and an Australian parliamentary inquiry.
BHP’s testimony to the inquiry revealed that it had pursued permission to damage Aboriginal cultural sites as recently as April despite being told of the distress it would cause traditional owners.
As a result of the latest agreement, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility said it would withdraw its proposed resolution on cultural heritage from BHP’s annual meeting.
The Alliance would continue to work with ACCR on similar proposals with other miners like Rio Tinto, Dennis said.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by Richard Pullin)