At its annual general meeting on Thursday, Rio came closer than before to acknowledging scepticism over the grounds of the commercial secrets conviction.
“We know there are different definitions of business secrets in different countries, and also different cultural views on what is normal market information, and what is secret,” said Tom Albanese, chief executive. “What I am clear about is that we would never ask our employees to do anything that we know is illegal.”
In a case that continues to be debated three weeks after its conclusion, Stern Hu, formerly Rio’s top iron ore salesman in China, and three colleagues were convicted of taking bribes from steelmakers. In a closed-door segment of the trial they were also convicted of stealing “secret” information that apparently included insights in to the Chinese steel industry’s negotiating position during iron ore pricing talks.
The AGM included critics who spoke out about Rio’s proposed iron ore joint venture with rival BHP Billiton, as well as environmental and labour concerns. These included a worker from the company’s US Boron mine who talked about the economic plight of the local community since Rio locked out employees following a union dispute it says it is working to resolve.