Q&A with the outgoing Chairman of the HSSE Committee - Gavin Beevers

Since the publication of our first stand-alone sustainable development report in 2011, we’ve continued to strive to improve the way we share our story with our stakeholders.

A: Since the publication of our first stand-alone sustainable development report in 2011, we’ve continued to strive to improve the way we share our story with our stakeholders.

It became apparent through the business transformation process that there were practices worth re-examining. Our reporting, for example, was critically looked at to ensure we were reporting in a way that connected with our stakeholders and was appropriate to an organisation of our size.

In this digital and fast-paced world, the move to an online report allows us to share our journey on an interactive platform that can be updated with our progress. As an added benefit, the online format will also reduce our consumption of natural resources.

While the business transformation process has been challenging for the whole company, one of the real benefits is the drive to step back and reflect on what we do and how we can improve.

A: Yes – I think the process has been invaluable – the focus inevitably and correctly has been to drive costs down but additionally across the business, we’re finding better ways to do things.

For example, in the process of rethinking our approach to sustainability reporting. We also revised several of our internal policies. Sustainability is an integral part of our strategy, but our internal policies reflected a somewhat disparate approach, with separate environmental, safety, CSI and sustainability policies, not truly representing the priority of sustainability in our strategy.

Sustainability has now been established as the overarching policy which dictates our approach to safety, health, social and environmental issues. Our goal is to stay in business in a way that sees all our stakeholders benefit. Our sustainability policies provide the correct framework for accomplishing that and guaranteeing our social license to operate.

A: Gem is a company with a strong conscience. Of course, it goes without saying that we comply with all the applicable laws and regulations we are subject to, but, our approach to governance and ethics extends beyond compliance. We have a history of doing things the right way, simply because that’s the culture that's ingrained in the organisation. It comes from our leadership down and throughout the organisation you’ll find a myriad of examples of people doing responsible things on their own initiative, because they’re driven by a desire to behave ethically. “That is just the way we do things around here.”

A: 2017 was a hugely difficult year, with significant financial and operational challenges that had a distracting impact on the organisation as a whole and on its people. Having said that, it was possible to take some positives from our performance.

I was pleased that we had yet another fatality-free year. Nonetheless, I do believe that unless we have had an injury free year, there is still work to do. It was disappointing that we had a lost time injury, though that marked an improvement on the five that occurred in 2016. The number of restricted work injuries was also unacceptable for me and I know the team is seriously grappling with the root causes in an effort to eliminate them.

The quality and volume of accident-investigation and near-miss reporting has hugely improved, as has the quality of actions taken to prevent their recurrence. Pleasingly the attention that was paid to planned-task observations was a step up from what we've experienced before, which is indicative of the commitment of our teams to make safety a way of life.

To produce the kind of numbers that we did considering the environment we were working in last year was impressive. Safety never took a back seat, and while I’m disappointed with some of the numbers, I think if we hadn't paid such close attention to building a culture of safety, it could have been worse. The workforce and management are to be commended for keeping some of these softer issues front of mind under such challenging conditions.

A: While mining is environmentally intense, we understand that we must leave a positive legacy for future generations.

This year we did a lot of work around the dams at Letšeng. Dam safety is critically important, and together with the dam rehabilitation work performed, the safety processes that we have in place now, in terms of inspections and warning systems, have matured and are working well.

Fresh water is a progressively scarce commodity on earth and we aim to ensure that we manage water sustainably. During 2017, we once again undertook a Water Footprint assessment to understand our water abstraction and water use. It is pleasing to report that the Group-wide water consumption was found to be well managed and sustainable. The nitrates issue remains a concern, but our pilot bioremediation plant demonstrated that it can, very successfully, remove nitrates from water. The next step is a feasibility study to determine how we can make it viable at the appropriate scale.

In addition to the Water Footprint, we also conducted a Carbon Footprint assessment to understand the contribution we make to global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. The assessment found that the 2017 Group-wide GHG emissions was 16% less than emissions in 2016 due to a reduction in mobile and stationary combustion at Letšeng and the placement of Ghaghoo on care and maintenance.

We can also take pride in our external audits. They’ve confirmed that we continue to move in the right direction. I think that improving the environment and culture is ultimately what is going to determine a company’s sustainability, and it’s through this process of examination and continuous improvement that we are able to do so. 2017 was also the first year that we had the full complement of Gemway audits instituted, which are an internal audit system built on several best-practice standards, and which are intended to complement and maximise the benefits of our external audits.

A: From a social perspective I've been very happy with the way in which the projects at Letšeng have matured. What I think has been particularly successful has been the work we’ve done with communities to identify our flagship projects. We consult them on what can be done to increase employment, to sustain livelihoods, and to create projects that would become self-sustaining. Thus far it's a model which has allowed us to accomplish those goals with two projects proving their viability and sustainability and a third handed over in February of 2018.

Collaboration with these communities is a large part of how we do business. Our scholarship programme has been running since 2008 as a partnership with the Lesotho Government. The government has identified areas of scarce-skills shortages. Through our bursary programme, we’ve offered support to students who address those gaps. Over the ten years that the bursary programme has been in place, there’s been a worthwhile contribution to developing local skills.

This year, Motheo Ntsolo, a member of our programme, won the award for best paper in in the field of geotechnical engineering delivered at the 19th International Conference on Rock Engineering and Engineering Geology in Venice, Italy.

A: 2017 was a difficult year, full of challenges. I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to the other directors and to management. We finished the year doing things better than we started, and that’s due to a lot of hard work on their part.

While it was a difficult undertaking, I believe the Ghaghoo team can be proud of the way the closure process was managed – on time, under budget, and without any mishaps.

During my time on the board I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a fantastic team. I'd like to extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all those I've worked with, at all levels and wish the whole Gem team all the best for the future.

Gavin Beevers
Outgoing Chairman of the HSSE Committee