Group protests large Denver company
Published: Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Updated: Sunday, July 19, 2009 01:07
The Stop Newmont Alliance, made up of some Auraria students and a University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center (UCDHSC) faculty member, protested the annual Newmont stockholder's meeting April 25 three times: once at the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center - the Englewood hotel the meeting was moved due to security concerns - and twice at the company's corporate headquarters in downtown Denver.
Newmont operations harm indigenous peoples around the world, according to the alliance, which is made up of Western Shoshone Defense Project, the American Indian Movement of Colorado, the Great Basin Mine Watch, the Campaign to End Destructive Mining Practices and Oxfam America.
According to the group, Newmont - the world's leading gold producer last year - is harming populations in Ghana, Indonesia, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, the U.S., Bolivia and Peru.
Newmont representatives say the company is an industry-wide leader in environmental practices.
"In the 1980s, Newmont was a leader in advocating for the adoption of a comprehensive mine reclamation statute in Nevada," the company said in its 2005 annual report released April 25. "We saw that increasingly, communities and governments around the world are demanding more - they want to see that having a mine in a community will result in economic opportunities and poverty reduction for local residents, and that the ultimate benefits of an operation will outweigh the costs at a societal level."
The company said this led to a greater emphasis "on the concepts of sustainable development, environmental stewardship and social responsibility." As evidence of this, the company points out that it is a founding member of the International Council on Mining and Metals, which commits member companies to publicly report on its performance in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative, providing third-party assurance of its performance and reporting and sharing and developing best-practice guidance within the industry.
Newmont is also a founding member of the Council for Responsible Jewelry Practices, an initiative to promote responsible social, environmental and ethical practices throughout the gold and diamond jewelry supply chains, from mines to retail stores.
The company said it is also a member of the World Economic Forum's Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, which commits member companies to a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and bribery. The company is also committed to the International Cyanide Management Code, developed under the United Nations Environmental Programme. Newmont also points to its joint effort with the University of Colorado School of Medicine to "better understand and address the healthcare infrastructure and needs of communities surrounding our operations."
The protesters see it completely differently.
"(Newmont) is mining at the expense of environmental destabilization, destructions of communities and pollution of water sources, and they're trying to create the image that they're some good company," said Awon Atuire, a protester in front of the Inverness Hotel and a native of Ghana who has lived in Denver for 14 years. "I want people to know that this company is operating in their own backyard."
Atuire said the company should fairly compensate farmers whose land is now part of a mining operation and let individual communities decide if the company should be allowed to operate in their areas. He said Newmont bribes local officials and wages an expensive public relations campaign to convince people otherwise.
"Tiny (African) villages can't compete with that," Atuire said. He added that he is not opposed to mining altogether, and that Newmont would be fine if it didn't destroy the environment and take lands away from people that have no way to defend themselves.
UCDHSC professor Glenn Morris - who participated in the protests in his capacity with the American Indian Movement (AIM) and not in any way connected to the university - said the April 25 shareholder's meeting "shows how much hypocrisy Newmont is engaged in."
"They say they want dialogue, but they make people run a police gauntlet just to get into a shareholder's meeting," Morris said. Including the checkpoint on the road leading into the hotel property, meeting attendees had to go through four separate security checkpoints to get into the actual meeting. He added, "We try to talk with them, but the CEO (Wayne Murdy) and the president (Pierre Lassonde) send us to underlings who can't answer questions and have no authority to do anything … they're just not honest."
Morris also pointed out that the company refused to send anyone to speak at one of the several forums held April 24 in the Tivoli to discuss their position.
Heatheryn Higgins, the director of public affairs and communications for Newmont, told the Advocate that the company had received an e-mail request to join a panel discussion, though few details were provided.
"With our 1Q earnings and annual meeting to the shareholders, this is a very busy time of year for us, and the request gave us inadequate notice," Higgins said. She added that "we have a history of engagement with those interested in constructive dialogue."
"We are meeting with several of these stakeholders from various parts of the world in conjunction with our annual meeting, including representatives of the Western Shoshone in North America and representatives from Ghana and Peru," Higgins said.
"I guess they have so much money they can't afford to come to a forum," Morris said, appalled at the response as to why they did not participate in the forums he helped set up as a faculty advisor to the Indigenous Support Network on the Auraria Campus. He added that the notion that Newmont wants transparency is not accurate.
"This is their version of transparency," Morris said, pointing to the Arapahoe County Sheriffs officers guarding the entrance to the Inverness Hotel.