What are corporations, and to whom are they responsible? Anthropologist Marina Welker draws on two years of research at Newmont Mining Corporation’s Denver headquarters and its Batu Hijau copper and gold mine in Sumbawa, Indonesia, to address these questions. Against the backdrop of an emerging Corporate Social Responsibility movement and changing state dynamics in Indonesia, she shows how people enact the mining corporation in multiple ways: as an ore producer, employer, patron, promoter of sustainable development, religious sponsor, auditable organization, foreign imperialist, and environmental threat. Rather than assuming that corporations are monolithic, profit-maximizing subjects, Welker turns to anthropological theories of personhood to develop an analytic model of the corporation as an unstable collective subject with multiple authors, boundaries, and interests. Enacting the Corporation demonstrates that corporations are constituted through continuous struggles over relations with—and responsibilities to—local communities, workers, activists, governments, contractors, and shareholders.
Enacting the Corporation An American Mining Firm in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia
"We Need to Newmontize Folk"
A New Social Discipline at Corporate Headquarters
Chris Anderson's administrative assistant escorted me to the thirty-sixth floor of the Wells Fargo Center for my first appointment with Newmont's Social Responsibility group executive in June 2003. We emerged from the elevator into a festive scene. A set of paintings Newmont had commissioned from Warlpiri artists had just arrived from Australia, addressed to Anderson under his adopted Warlpiri name. Executives and consultants were trying them out in their offices and on hallway walls, and Anderson was explaining the importance of the flying ant motifs in the paintings, the cosmology of places they contained, and how one renowned artist could sing her paintings as women's stories and men's stories. Noting Newmont president Pierre Lassonde's zeal for the paintings, he joked, "We better get these out of the way before he sees them." Shocks of vibrant color against the subdued blues and grays of the office décor, the paintings seemed to represent a new, unexpected, and disruptive presence. Anderson was appointed to lead CSR at Newmont in 2002, as part of the corporate restructuring that followed Newmont's acquisition of the Australian company Normandy Mining and the Canadian Franco-Nevada Mining Corporation. Those takeovers left Newmont the world's largest gold producer, raising its profile for both investors and environmental activists.1 The paintings were material traces of Anderson's biography and the relationships he had cultivated with Australian Aboriginal communities and artists as a doctoral student in anthropology doing his fieldwork, as a curator and director at the South Australian Museum, and as executive general manager of Public Affairs for Normandy.
At that time I had only a vague sense of the shape my research at Newmont's corporate headquarters would take, since much would depend on the level of access granted me. I was disappointed to find that the corporate library and centralized archives I had hoped to explore did not exist, but my access to daily life at headquarters was better than I had expected. My initial plan was to interview executives and shadow Anderson and his close colleague Helen Macdonald, director of Community Relations and Social Development, in the occasional meeting. This took on the livelier complexion of fieldwork when Anderson and I sat down together and he said, "I don't want to tell you how to run your research, but, as a fellow anthropologist, I think it makes sense for you to get a cubicle so you can really be among the natives." My timing was fortunate. Both Anderson and Macdonald, who holds a doctoral degree in applied philosophy and had been Normandy's community relations advisor, were willing to let me observe their daily activities and follow them in meetings as long as other participants did not object to my presence (Newmont lawyers were the only ones to do so).
It was not a given that Anderson and Macdonald's academic training would encourage them to open their office doors to a graduate student they knew little about. Anderson had encountered academic anthropologists who shunned him for taking a job with a mining company and asked him how much he had been paid to "go over to the dark side." But being the subject of ethnographic scrutiny was not a novel experience for him: in his previous role as a museum curator, Anderson had received nuanced but not uncritical treatment in an article by American anthropologist Fred Myers (1994). Whatever other factors may have contributed to Anderson and Macdonald's openness to an independent academic shadowing them for several months, I believe they saw the potential for an experiment in enacting Newmont as a transparent corporation.
If so, this was an experiment that Anderson and Macdonald undertook from a position of weakness, not strength. Their newly prominent place in the corporate hierarchy was tenuous, and the future of CSR was as uncertain at Newmont as it was then in the mining industry and indeed the corporate world more generally.2 This chapter is about Anderson and Macdonald's struggle to acquire authority, resources, and legitimacy in order to enact Newmont as a responsible mining corporation. Though "responsible mining corporation" may strike many of us as oxymoronic (Benson and Kirsch 2010b), my goal here is to hew closely to my interlocutors' terms rather than produce yet another rearview-mirror critique of corporate responsibility for serving corporate interests. As I discussed in the introduction, this critique itself bears a striking resemblance to the "business case" that CSR proponents use as a forward-looking marketing device to promote their field, and both models overstate the seamlessness of the meld between responsibilities and interests.
Within the office towers of corporate headquarters, executives disagree, sometimes vehemently, about the appropriateness of CSR values and practices. The notion that CSR is in the "corporate interest" is not a given; advocates must continually make the case for it by framing and reframing the boundaries, interests, and responsibilities of the firm. Were CSR executives little more than empty vessels channeling preset corporate goals, if indeed their activities originated in the will of a metaphysical corporate actor or neoliberal capitalism writ large, then there would be little point in examining their ideas and behavior. If, however, no corporate actor exists independent of its ongoing enactments, then the practices and subjective experiences of those trying to "responsibilize" the corporation must be worthy of examination and thick description. Rather than treat CSR agents as ciphers, critics interested in reorienting corporations must take executives seriously as complex, thinking subjects who, like us, are also engaged in analyzing, interpreting, theorizing, and criticizing capitalism (Miyazaki 2013:6-7, 9, 13, 23).3 These executives are engaged in a project of reform rather than revolution, but the nature of that reform-and of the corporation itself-is never fully predetermined.
"We need to Newmontize folk!" declared Alan, a manager with oversight of land and permitting, at a planning meeting. "We've got all the programs to draw on from Batu." At issue was Newmont's start-up gold mine project in Ghana. With significant social and environmental problems already on the horizon, Alan was stressing the need to instill Newmont's standards and values in contractors in Ghana. Behind this statement stood the assumption that Newmont itself was unevenly responsible or "Newmontized." Depending on one's perspective, some mine operations, such as Batu Hijau in Sumbawa, could serve better than others as models for enacting an aspirational and idealized conception of the responsible mining firm.
In their efforts to frame the corporation as responsible, managers shift-sometimes rapidly-between a pancorporate identity articulated around the firm as a whole and more partisan identifications with their fields of expertise ("disciplines") or their mine sites. These identifications are often articulated in contradistinction to other industries, corporations, disciplines, mine sites, or corporate headquarters. They enact the corporation in ways that frame it as a whole or as separate parts, expand and contract corporate boundaries, and embrace or estrange various actors and responsibilities.
Denver, Colorado, as Corporate Home Address
In 2003, Newmont's headquarters occupied floors thirty-four through thirty-six of the Wells Fargo Center, an imposing structure and-with its cash-register shape-an iconic part of the downtown Denver skyline. The firm's geophysical, metallurgy, microbiology, analytical, and mineralogy departments were housed in the Malozemoff Technical Facility, named after a former Newmont CEO, in an office park in Englewood, on the southern outskirts of the city.4 Newmont relocated its corporate headquarters from New York to downtown Denver in 1988, moving its exploration, engineering, and computer services from Arizona and Connecticut to Denver as well. The consolidation was meant to integrate management and bring it closer to Newmont's U.S. assets and areas of exploration (Newmont 1989:4).
Leaving Manhattan was probably a money-saving maneuver, and it positioned the company in a state that had long embraced the mining industry. Colorado's growth in sectors ranging from mining and agriculture to tourism has long depended heavily on fossil fuels (Andrews 2008); natural resource exploitation was likely facilitated by the lack of formal recognition for American Indian land rights in the state.5 Extraction is economically welcome, politically nurtured, and culturally celebrated. The Colorado School of Mines, a state institution founded in the 1870s in Golden, west of Denver, promoted in its early decades a masculine culture around the notion of the western frontier and the technological mastery of (feminized) nature (LeCain 2009:56-60).6 State and national mining history is commemorated in local museums and old mining towns,7 which shed light on a harsh industrial past and in some cases parlay it into romantic kitsch for tourist consumption. Colorado's coal mines saw some of the bloodiest labor battles of the past century (Andrews 2008), and mining has contaminated the state's streams, lakes, groundwater, and soil. Although Newmont no longer has any active mines in the state, it operated several there in the past. In 1983, Colorado sued Idarado Mining Company, a Newmont subsidiary that operated near Telluride, under the Superfund Act, forcing the company to carry out environmental remediation in the 1990s.
Although I heard executives complain that Newmont ought to do more to raise its local profile, the company was engaged with and embraced by a range of local institutions. For example, Newmont speakers made regular appearances at the Denver Mining Club, which describes itself as "the oldest active organization of its type in Colorado" and brings together largely retired miners for a weekly lunch and mine-related talk or film.8 I accompanied Chris Anderson to one such speaking event at a local Country Buffet restaurant. We were both promptly and jovially inducted into the club (which automatically included membership in the "Colorado Chapter of the International Order of Ragged Ass Miners") and presented with certificates to that effect. Newmont employees also help run the mining booth at the annual "A Taste of Colorado" festival in Denver. At the booth, children can play at panning for gold (figure 1), while informational displays and brochures created by the Colorado-based Mineral Information Institute educate the public on the hazards of old mines (emphasizing individual education and responsibility for staying clear of them), contemporary reclamation practices, and the millions of pounds of minerals, metals, and fuels every American supposedly needs in her lifetime. One display with a baby doll depicts minerals, metals, and fuels nourishing human life rather than, as environmental critics would claim, destroying it (figure 2). The display addresses "every American," but the baby doll with which it invites identification is racially coded as white. The Mineral Information Institute furnishes teachers with curricular materials to recruit young children, not only as potential miners, but also as citizen-consumers cognizant of their implication in and dependence on extractive industries. Promoting similar themes, Newmont has hosted a Science Day for schoolchildren at its technical facility.9 The company has won various social and environmental awards from local media, and top executives have also been accorded various honors by local universities.10 Local critics (Gordon 2003; Lewis 2007) question on principle the granting of such awards to a mining company and its CEO and voice concerns that such awards consolidate potential conflicts of interest (through the reciprocities of corporate donations, academic consulting, etc.).
Newmont's chief critic in Colorado during the period of my fieldwork was Global Response, a nonprofit environmental action and education network located in Boulder. Global Response coordinated letter-writing and media campaigns in response to issues such as Newmont's plan to mine in Ghana's national forest, and it helped to organize an activist presence and protests at Newmont's shareholder meetings. In 2003, the organization mobilized people to write thousands of emails and hundreds of letters to CEO Wayne Murdy opposing Newmont's proposed mine in Ghana.
CSR among the Corporate Disciplines
Organization theorists have called attention to a tendency among academics to treat management as monolithic by neglecting power relations among managers and lumping executives together as if they shared common views on strategy and policy arising from lockstep fealty to firm interests (Anteby 2013; Jacoby 2005:4). In the United States at least, executives often identify more closely with their domain of expertise, with what Anderson and Macdonald referred to as their "discipline."11 This term, more familiar in academic settings, connotes distinct epistemological fields within a corporation, each with its own distinct history, set of canons, and social conventions. Geology, metallurgy, engineering, investor relations, security, and human resources are among the disciplines at Newmont. The executives at headquarters who were in charge of a particular discipline set policy for the global mine sites, but they were linked only "by a dotted line" to their disciplinary counterparts who served as on-site managers and reported to the general manager or president of the subsidiary company. Annual meetings (known as "collegiates") brought together managers of the same discipline from operations around the globe.
An excerpt from notes I took during a meeting over a planned mining project will give a sense of the disciplinary divisions at corporate headquarters. CSR-aligned managers (Helen, Kwabena, and Alan) and engineers from the mine Projects and Operations Department (Bill, Ilana, and Tim) here debate the project's construction start date.
Bill (Projects engineer): Can you promise to get some of the land more quickly? Like for the construction camp. We're only talking about the size of a football field. Like two hundred by two hundred meters.
Alan (land manager): No. We're not promising anything like that, more quickly.
Kwabena (CSR manager): Even if you're only talking about ten by ten meters, someone might live there.
Alan: There's no way I'm going to promise you a single case. That could jeopardize the whole negotiation process. Don't forget we are creating our own cost increases as we go along. Soft issues are hard issues.
Ilana (mining engineer): Maybe there's a problem of resources that needs to be addressed here. If it costs us a million per month to put off a project, and it would cost less than that to speed up negotiations considerably, maybe we should just put more money into negotiations.
Alan [voice raised and visibly annoyed]: There are too many inconceivables in negotiations to assign a date. More resources? What do you want? Six negotiators? That will only lead to confusion. We need to have two chief negotiators who will control everything and write everything. You cannot maximize negotiating resources. When you balance an artificial deadline of going into production in the third quarter of 2006 against doing the job right and going into production in fourth quarter of 2006, you have to ask yourself what the difference is. . . . Let's ask Wayne [CEO] or Pierre [president] what they think. I don't care about the money that you could be making by starting six months earlier. I don't care. You can put it on the back end or take it out somewhere else.
Helen: By doing any construction before the end of the negotiations we would also violate the IFC [International Finance Corporation] principles by putting pressure on people. . . .
Bill [joking]: You guys are harder to negotiate with than the community. We'll give a few more months.
Alan: Now listen, we need money to do our work, and we can't worry about an extra twenty or thirty thousand dollars here or there.
Tim (Operations director): OK, we'll open the checkbook a little on this one.
Helen: Keep this in mind, the IFC would say the schedule is still aggressive.
Bill: All right, we'll move the construction start date back two months.
Bill's "you guys" captures the fractious relationship between corporate managers, who are often far from being "diligent souls work[ing] contentedly towards a universally accepted goal" (Fleming and Spicer 2007:11). Through their hard-line posturing and jokes, participants in this exchange relate and interact "via a set of conventionalized role expectations" (Mazzarella 2003:27), with engineers wanting to get the project up and running fast, and CSR managers wanting to slow it down, to keep the start date flexible in order to "prepare the community." Alan anticipated this dynamic before the meeting, telling the CSR executives that Projects would want to "hold a schedule up and say, 'Look [CEO] Wayne, I'm a hero!'" Macdonald later explained to me that Alan was particularly defensive because this was the first time he had been given a real say on the project start date in a meeting of this kind; he had been accustomed to having deadlines determined by others, and his own work ignored or devalued.12
At Newmont, CSR executives were not alone in their sense of being embattled or marginalized. They had a close alliance with the disciplines of Health, Safety, and Loss Prevention and Environment.13 Of the three disciplines, CSR was relatively junior; the others had a longer history in mining and enjoyed greater legitimacy (land manager Alan referred to safety as Newmont's "sacred cow").14 I would call all three ameliorative disciplines insofar as their role is to mitigate the negative social and environmental consequences that mining routinely produces. Financially, they are regarded within the corporation as cost centers rather than profit centers. Representatives of ameliorative disciplines are thus under pressure to justify their activities in a way that, say, geologists or engineers in a mining company are not. Although these disciplines may help mining companies comply with laws and garner environmental and social awards, which in turn support employee morale and serve a public relations function, for the most part they have relatively low visibility in the absence of breakdowns (such as worker deaths, toxic spills, or human rights scandals). They have a counterfactual dimension, working effectively when no problems are visible. A trained anthropologist and CSR executive at the London-based min
About the Book
"Marina Welker provides an alternative mode of analysis that avoids the usual tropes without losing sight of the complexities and contradictions revealed through ethnographic fieldwork."—American Anthropologist
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Note on Pseudonyms and Quoted Sources
1. “We Need to Newmontize Folk”: A New Social Discipline at Corporate Headquarters
2. “Pak Comrel Is Our Regent Whom We Respect:” Mine, State, and Development Responsibility
3. “My Job Would Be Far Easier If Locals Were Already Capitalists”: Incubating Enterprise and Patronage
4. “We Identified Farmers as Our Top Security Risk”: Ethereal and Material Development in the Paddy Fields
5. “Corporate Security Begins in the Community”: The Social Work of Environmental Management
6. “We Should Be Like Starbucks”: The Social Assessment
Conclusion. “Soft Is Hard”