NEW DELHI: Controversial mining firm Vedanta has created a new global comms leadership role, as it bids to rehabilitate a reputation that has been dogged by numerous environmental and human rights allegations.
The company, founded in India but now headquartered and listed in London, has poached Senjam Raj Sekhar, one of India’s most experienced corporate communications specialists, for the role.
Sekhar joins from Indian conglomerate Bharti Enterprises, where he headed communications for the past six years, helping it navigate its expansion across 19 countries in Asia and Africa.
He told the Holmes Report that the opportunity presents a “new challenge. “Vedanta operates in a sensitive sector with multiple stakeholder interests,” added Sekhar. “Corporate communications can play a vital role in leading dialogue and engagement with various stakeholders and present the company perspective in an open and transparent manner.”
Vedanta has faced particular scrutiny for its bauxite mining operations in the Indian state of Orissa, which NGOs (including Survival International and Amnesty International) have said raise human rights and environmental issues, in particular concerning the treatment of the Dongria Kondh tribe.
Last year, India’s environment ministry rejected earlier clearances allowing a Vedanta-led joint venture to mine bauxite from Orissa’s Niyamgiri Hills, following a four-year campaign that saw numerous investors - including the Church of England - disinvest from the company.
Sekhar will remain based in New Delhi, reporting to group CEO MS Mehta. “There is tremendous work being done in areas of sustainability and social responsibility,” said Sekhar. “Few people know that Vedanta sponsors midday meals for half a million poor kids every day or that it is supporting 25,000 village women in setting up micro-enterprises. It will be our endeavour to tell the Vedanta story.”
Prior to joining Bharti, Sekhar spent several years agency-side, including two years as Genesis Burson-Marsteller managing partner.