Shareholders of Newmont Mining Corp., one of the world’s largest gold producers, voted Tuesday to require the company to address community opposition to its operations in the United States and around the globe.
It is believed to be the first time a U.S. mining company has embraced such a social justice resolution, an action that shareholders said came as a result of heightened criticism of the company’s environmental practices internationally.
Among Newmont Mining’s many holdings is majority interest in the Dawn Mining Company, which until 1981 operated the Midnite Mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The open-pit uranium mine, now a Superfund site, is the source of radiation and heavy metal contamination of Blue Creek, which flows into the Spokane River arm of Lake Roosevelt.
Spokane tribal member Deb Abrahamson, director of the Shawl Society, an environmental group that was formed to address the legacy of uranium mining on the reservation, welcomed the news from the Newmont annual shareholders meeting.
“This offers great promise to help our community rebuild and address the issues that have been devastating to our people, our lands and our culture,” Abrahamson said.
The shareholders’ vote came on the same day an Indonesian court acquitted Denver-based Newmont and one of its executives in Indonesia of dumping arsenic and mercury into a bay of Sulawesi Island, where villagers have become ill as a result of eating contaminated fish.
The resolution on Newmont’s community policies and practices was put forward by a coalition of faith-based investor groups led by Christian Brothers Investment Service Inc. It had the support of Newmont’s board of directors and the leading proxy voting service, Institutional Shareholder Services, and was approved by nearly 92 percent of shareholders.
“We were concerned as shareholders about the company’s reputation,” said Julie Tanner, corporate advocacy coordinator for Christian Brothers Investment Service.
She said investors were seeing “a pattern of community opposition” in Indonesia, Ghana and Peru, as well as in Nevada, where Newmont operates several mines on the traditional lands of the Western Shoshone Nation.
She said analysts’ reports on protests and legal actions as a result of the company’s environmental and human rights record were beginning to affect stock prices.
“Also there is a moral obligation as faith-based shareholders,” she added.
Tanner speculated that the company also saw adoption of the resolution as in the best interests of shareholders and to oppose it would not have been good corporate governance. A company spokesman did not return calls on Tuesday from a reporter seeking comment.
Newmont shareholders rejected another resolution by the New York City Pension Fund for the company to review the environmental and public health effects of its mining waste disposal operations in Buyat Bay on Sulawesi Island.
On Tuesday, nearly 1,000 protesters gathered outside an Indonesian courtroom as Richard Ness, who heads Newmont’s subsidiary there, was acquitted of criminal charges after a 21-month trial, according to the Associated Press.
Newmont’s chief executive, Wayne Murdy, told the AP that the case cost his company “tens of millions of dollars,” including a $30 million settlement to end a separate civil suit over alleged pollution in the bay.
It was Newmont’s unfavorable environmental and human rights reputation around the world that resulted in faith-based shareholders bringing both social justice resolutions to a vote.
Abrahamson said it was unlikely in the current U.S. environmental climate that the company would have supported the resolution were it not for the shareholders’ insistence.
“It’s been international pressure that has made this happen, while nationally they still have an open road to destruction,” Abrahamson said.