From Peru to Nevada and beyond, communities impacted by Newmont Mining have been sounding the alarm for years about the company’s failure to live up to its human rights and environmental commitments. Now, the world’s largest gold producer is poised to become even bigger–and own even more problematic mines–through the acquisition of Australian company, Newcrest Mining.
If the acquisition goes through, Newmont will take on Newcrest’s checkered history of harmful impacts from its operations, increasing risk for investors and problems for communities. Newcrest’s Lihir mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the few remaining projects using the outdated practice of submarine tailings disposal. The company is also pushing through the Wafi Golpu project, another ocean dumping mine in PNG, despite widespread community opposition.
Residents living near Newcrest’s Cadia mine in New South Wales, Australia have documented dangerously high levels of lead as well as other heavy metals in their drinking water. They are also concerned about the potential impacts of a new tailings dam proposal at the site. In 2018 the Cadia Valley Operations upstream tailings dam failed and currently has an embargo on its use. There are still no firm plans to repair and start using the dam. Current proposals for a new tailings dam that would be in operation for approximately 30 years utilize hydro cyclones, the same technology as the failed Brumadinho and Mount Polly dams. The proposed new dam will have a surface area of 3,500 acres and will be adjacent to a significant creek system flowing directly into one of the fastest flowing rivers in New South Wales and to the major Lachlan River system.
Newmont’s track record raises concerns in communities already impacted by Newcrest’s operations. Time and time again, Newmont’s actions don’t match their words. Take Newmont’s history of operations in Indonesia and Peru, where cases of pollution, impacts on human health, and peaceful community opposition were met with harassment and lawsuits, and Haiti, where the company does not have support from local communities.
In Peru the company has multiple civil lawsuits against peasant farmer and Goldman Environmental prize winner, Máxima Acuña de Chaupe. Broad social opposition to mining in Peru from Máxima and fellow farmers and activists prevented Newmont from building the Conga mine—a proposed expansion of the massive Yanacocha gold mine. The project remains on hold, but that hasn’t stopped Newmont from harassing Máxima and her family, filing lawsuit after lawsuit in an attempt to take her land.
At Newmont’s shareholder meeting this week, Pat Zurega, from Mercy Investments, questioned the company about land disputes and land rights issues surrounding the Yanaocha mine expansion. Newmont responded, “we strive to be respectful of our stakeholders and neighboring communities,” and referenced a 2016 Newmont-commissioned Resolve report into allegations of Minera Yanacocha’s misconduct, claiming the report confirmed Newmont followed a reasonable process for land acquisition and that there was no evidence of human rights abuses.
However, the actual findings of the report stated that Mineria Yanacocha, Newmont’s Peruvian subsidiary, put human rights at risk and “failed to meet international standards of corporate responsibility to which Newmont publicly commits.” More on the report and its findings here.
In Haiti, communities are organized to prevent Newmont from restarting exploration operations in their territory. On April 24th, two days before Nemont’s AGM, 16 organizations in Haiti released a statement calling on communities around the world to “join us as we demand Newmont to respect the rights of communities and cease any plan to build mines to extract minerals in Haiti.” To raise the concerns of Haitian communities with investors, the Global Justice Clinic published a brief that concluded, “highly unlikely that Haiti’s gold could be mined in a way that is both profitable and consistent with Newmont’s sustainability and human rights commitments.”
In Indonesia, Newmont owned and operated two mines in Indonesia, Minahasa Raya and Batu Hijau, that dumped millions of tonnes of waste into the ocean. Following public outcry, the Indonesian government took Newmont executives to court on pollution charges, but were ultimately unsuccessful. To defend its reputation, Newmont targeted local scientists with hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil lawsuits.
Activists and community members worry that Newmont’s takeover of Newcrest will exacerbate already tense situations, put frontline activists at greater risk, and in the case of Wafi Golpu, force the government to approve a mine against the will of the people.