Nicholas Cotts is the group executive for environment and social responsibility at Newmont Mining Corporation. He spoke at the Initiatives in Art and Culture gold conference last week, in a presentation titled “Gold Mining and Institution Building – The New Frontier?” He sat down with editor/producer Nicole V. Rohr to further discuss how social responsibility and sustainability demands and responsibilities have changed for Newmont, and for all mining companies.
Q: How have customer social responsibility demands changed for Newmont in the past few years?
A: I think what we’ve seen is a lot more interest from the institutional investor side. It used to be that they would be asking questions about environment and environmental management, but we’ve seen that change significantly, [regarding] relationships we have with communities, the impacts that we have from a benefit perspective and what we’re doing to address needs on a global basis. So, we’ve seen a broad spectrum from very focused environmental impact type issues all the way to the shared value perspective.
Q: Is a mining company expected to handle social responsibility and sustainability issues on their own, or do other groups contribute to the effort?
A: I think that we’ve seen a pendulum swing, and depending on where you are, it’s still out there on one end where communities and governments believe that it’s the company’s responsibility to build infrastructure and do all of these things. I feel like we’re starting to see some voices back toward the middle saying, “Well, the company has a role to be a good business, to be an efficient business, to generate revenues that we then get to use to build infrastructure and develop our countries.” Companies are not saying that they’re walking away from that responsibility. They’re saying, “We want to partner with you. We want to be at the table with you, but we don’t want to be responsible for it.” And I think that’s how the pendulum is starting to come back a bit with the recognition that it’s not the company’s job to do this. It’s our job to be good businesses.
Q: Newmont has mining sites in Peru and in Ghana. How do the two countries compare in regard to development, production and community?
A: They’re very different from a cultural perspective. The needs from a development perspective are very similar. If you have poverty in one place, you have poverty in the next place. If you have subsistence agricultural economies in one place, you have subsistence agricultural economies in the other. What are really strikingly different are the institutions that work within those societies. That’s the biggest contrast that I’ve seen, that in Africa you have a much more institutional-committee-focused community, and they use those to work together. And that’s what doesn’t necessarily exist, at least in my experience, in Peru and many places.
Q: How are benefit-sharing programs created?
A: I think benefit sharing has developed over the years. Companies not only pay their taxes. That’s what it used to be, but now companies are concerned about local content, about local employment, about local business and entrepreneurs and those groups participating within your business systems and structures. That didn’t exist before in a formal sense. And the other piece is that companies are out there actively working with other stakeholders to work with the central government around bringing money back to the point of origin, so that the impacts of the economic activity are being felt by the communities where the gold is being produced. That’s different. So, you have them lobbying actively out there with governments, promoting transparency with governments and other stakeholders, and then working with them to build capacity so that they can actually develop themselves.