Canada’s ambassador to China appointed new Rio Tinto chairman as mining giant battles to rehabilitate its reputation
Canada’s departing ambassador to China has been appointed as chairman of Rio Tinto and lead its rehabilitation.
Dominic Barton will take over from Simon Thompson after the mining giant’s annual meeting in May.
Barton, 59, has been Canada’s leading diplomat in Beijing since 2019 and has been praised by prime minister Justin Trudeau for playing ‘an integral role in shaping and pursuing Canada’s priorities with respect to China’.
Safe hands: Canada’s departing ambassador to China Dominic Barton (pictured) will take over from Simon Thompson at Rio Tinto after the company’s annual meeting in May
He also recently secured the release of two businessmen accused by Chinese authorities of espionage.
Barton previously worked for consulting giant McKinsey, with stints leading its teams in Shanghai and Seoul.
His appointment shows Rio is keen to focus on its relations with China, where it makes around 58pc of its revenue.
But the choice of chairman is also controversial. Rio had been under pressure to put Australians in charge of its recovery from a major crisis last year after it blew up two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia.
The incident triggered a global outcry, outrage from shareholders, an Australian parliamentary inquiry and a boardroom clear-out – which saw former chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two other executives ousted within months.
Thompson, 62, announced his resignation last April shortly before the company’s annual meeting.
He said he was ‘ultimately responsible’ for the Juukan Gorge tragedy.
The hunt for a replacement was overseen by two of Rio’s independent board members, Sam Laidlaw and Simon McKeon. Rio’s shares fell 2.4 per cent, or 116.5p, to 4759.5p.