Rio Tinto PLC (LON:RIO) said it has reached an agreement with local community members to identify and assess the impacts of the former Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which ceased operating in 1989 after a civil war broke out.
A joint committee of stakeholders will be formed to oversee a detailed independent assessment of the mine to identify and better understand the actual and potential environmental and human rights impacts of the mine, it said.
“Operations at Panguna ceased in 1989 and we’ve not had access to the mine since that time,” said Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm.
“Stakeholders have raised concerns about impacts to water, land and health and this process will provide all parties with a clearer understanding of these important matters, so that together we can consider the right way forward.
We take this seriously and are committed to identifying and assessing any involvement we may have had in adverse impacts in line with our external human rights and environmental commitments and internal policies and standards.”
The agreement follows several months of discussions facilitated by the Australian OECD National Contact Point (AusNCP).
In September 2020, AusNCP received a complaint on behalf of 156 villagers living downstream of the Panguna mine.
The Panguna mine was operated by ASX-listed Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), majority owned by Rio Tinto, for 17 years from 1972.
Rio Tinto transferred its 53.83% shareholding in BCL to the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the Papua New Guinea Government in 2016 for no consideration.