Yesterday I attended Newmont Mining Co.’s annual shareholder meeting. The meeting took place in a small hotel banquet room in a Wilmington, DE hotel. The Denver-based company has held its annual meeting here ever since 2007 after meeting in Denver became a lightening rod for annual protests against their irresponsible mining operations. However, while Newmont may have hidden away from protestors outside their meetings, they continue to face criticism inside their shareholder meeting.
Earthworks went up to the meeting to voice our concerns regarding Newmont’s continued lack of a robust community consultation and a free prior and informed consent (FPIC) policy for their mine projects, most recently at their proposed Minas Conga project in Peru. Here’s our statement and question to the Newmont Board of Directors:
“Following a 2007 shareholder resolution, your company undertook a review of community relationships (CRR), with a final report published in 2009. In the final report, Newmont stated a welcome “commitment to the principle of free, prior and informed consent.” We find Newmont’s commitment to follow through with the findings of the CRR woefully inadequate. Your company’s failure to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities has turned into a reputational and financial liability for the company. The Conga project's suspension following sustained community opposition due to water and environmental concerns is costing the company and its shareholders $2 million a day since November 2011. Newmont must demonstrate its leadership by adopting a free, prior and informed consent process that is implemented through independent and credible means.
When can shareholders expect to see such a policy implemented?”
Richard O’Brien, CEO of Newmont, gave a very ambiguous answer, referring to Newmont’s continued “engagement” with communities, the company’s intent to include all stakeholders in the consultation processes, and the new updates to the company’s Community Relations Review. While all good in principle, the ambiguous answer was precisely why I was asking the above question. The company’s rhetoric stands in stark contrast to the intense community opposition they have faced at places like Conga and Cerro Quilish. Newmont’s consultation and consent practices are clearly not adequate.
I was pleased to hear Mr. O’Brien say that Newmont is open to the principle of FPIC – but he did not say when this would happen.
I pushed some more, and asked about the company’s consultation around the Conga mine in Peru. Newmont’s own Impact Assessment (EIA) Executive Summary states that “[r]egarding the Conga Project, 50% of the Area Direct Impact (10 hamlets) population indicated they know of the project. From this group, 62% disagrees with project development.” Mr. O’Brien had no answer to this question; in fact, he was unaware of the numbers. Fair enough; this CEO has a lot on his mind. However, these numbers are significant in illustrating what exactly Newmont considers to be “consultation.”
We are now seeing the consequences of having such a low bar for consultation at the Conga mine. For nearly five months, the Conga mine development has been shut down due to regional protests – in part, because of Newmont’s malleable definition of what consultation is. This suspension has cost Newmont, and its shareholders, around $2 million a day. Newmont has been in this position before, just down the road at their proposed Cerro Quilish site. The Cerro Quilish project faced such massive community opposition that Newmont asked for their permit to be revoked. The company took the commendable step of placing an ad in a Peruvian newspaper apologizing for the lack of community consultation and for their flawed community engagement process.
What has Newmont learned from their experiences at Cerro Quilish?
Many ongoing mining conflicts are in some way related to the lack of consent from the community. Newmont cannot possibly want to continue to operate in perpetual conflict, but the lack of a strong FPIC policy is inviting just that. So I’ll ask again, and hope for a more encouraging answer:
When can we expect to see Newmont implement a free, prior and informed consent policy?