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Rio Tinto Chairman Urges End to Spiralling Executive Remuneration

By Robb M. Stewart MELBOURNE--The chairman of Rio Tinto PLC (RIO), one of the world's largest mining companies, has called for an end to excessive remuneration for corporate executives and for companies to better communicate the need for big businesses. In a speech in London, Jan du Plessis said there has been a breakdown of trust across most of the developed world in recent years, and anger against people getting "filthy rich" that has manifested in public debate and protests. "It is absolutely clear that the spiral in executive remuneration we have seen over the last two decades simply cannot continue," Mr. du Plessis told the Royal Institute for International Affairs on Wednesday. "Too many businesses sometimes appear to have lost all touch with reality, and for too long boards and remuneration committees of public companies have been all too prepared to support remuneration levels that were not necessarily demanded by the marketplace," he said. He said that it was a necessary, albeit difficult, challenge for businesses to confront the "lazy thinking" that has often characterized public debate on executive pay. South Africa-born Mr. du Plessis, who until being appointed chairman of Rio Tinto in 2009 was chairman of British American Tobacco PLC (BTI), said businesses needed to become more responsive to how they are perceived by the public, employees and shareholders. Large corporations and multinationals needed proactively to explain why big business is needed, he said. "I am afraid all too often in the popular mind, small- and medium-size businesses are seen to be good and, in simple terms, big businesses are suspected of being bad," Mr. du Plessis said. "Business--in particular, big business--has a good story, but unless we are going to stand up and be counted, we cannot expect others to do so on our behalf." Mr. du Plessis, who is also a nonexecutive director of retailer Marks & Spencer Group PLC (MKS.LN), received more than US$1.4 million in total remuneration from Rio Tinto in 2011. The mining company's chief executive, Tom Albanese, received GBP4.5 million, 19% lower than the year before after he decided to forgo a cash bonus following a large writedown in the company's struggling aluminum division. Write to Robb M. Stewart at robb.stewart@wsj.com

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