Q AND A WITH OUR CHAIRPERSON OF THE SUSTAINABILITY COMMITTEE


     

How would you characterise the overall sustainability performance of Gem Diamonds in 2021?

2021 was marked by a slow and challenging start in several respects. However, this was followed by a period of solid performance in the second half of the year, which allowed us to successfully deliver on our objectives.

Looking at safety, we recorded four LTIs in the first half of the year which resulted in a mine stoppage to investigate safety performance. Our employees and contractors brought several HR-related issues to our attention, and the steps we took to resolve these issues resulted in a much-improved safety performance for the rest of the year.

On the environmental side we had a successful year, with no major or significant events recorded. We also made good progress on reducing dams and tailings risks.

Our CSI initiatives were ramped up once borders opened, and site visits were once again viable. Gem Diamonds rebuilt footbridges, installed water wells and an ambulance was donated to service remote locations. Our overall CSI spend for 2021 was approximately US$0.8 million, more than triple the 2020 spend.

Climate change has been an issue under discussion for several years and, in 2021 it became a separate agenda item under sustainability and was incorporated into the Company's risk register. TCFD recommendations were adopted, and several studies were completed with a total budget of approximately U$0.2 million.

As you mentioned, the Group adopted the recommendations of the TCFD during the year. Could you talk briefly about this process and how the framework has been embraced from a leadership and governance perspective?

We adopted the recommendations of the TCFD at the beginning of 2021. From the start we’ve been committed to embracing the principles of the framework. We aligned our climate-change goals within our UN SDG framework and commissioned an energy-efficiency study to better understand our impact in terms of UN SDG 12, which refers to responsible consumption and production. We also completed a climate-change scenario analysis and developed a three-year roadmap.

Although the process is in early stages and a fair amount of work still needs to be done to fully understand the impact of climate-related risks and opportunities as well as agree on metrics and targets, the Board fully supports the recommendations and is committed to taking a science-based approach to understanding and preparing for climate change.


Could you please talk about the Group's response to safety during 2021?

Our safety performance and our reaction to that performance, were defining features of 2021. We had a very challenging start to the year with four LTIs recorded in in the first half, in response executive took the laudable decision to shut the mine.

Executives and management held an intense series of engagements at the mine to identify the underlying issues. It was a stark reminder that organisational culture and morale directly affect our employees' capacity to focus on safety. The stresses of the past 18 months, exacerbated by the ongoing restrictions on movement, created an environment in which our safety culture suffered.

The stoppage, engagements and initiatives implemented proved successful and we saw a much-improved safety performance for the remainder of 2021. Safety must be a continuous focus. We subsequently engaged safety experts to implement a safety programme, beginning with a safety-perception survey and identifying interventions to drive safety culture to the next level of maturity. This process will continue in 2022.

2021 was the second year that the business had to deal with COVID-19. How do you feel the Company adapted to the pandemic and the associated "new normal"?

I believe Gem Diamonds managed to implement one of the best-managed COVID-19 programmes I have seen anywhere in the world. After we lost five weeks of production in 2020, we did not shut down the mine for COVID-19-related reasons at all in 2021, although we occasionally ran shorter shifts to accommodate employees safely.

With the high (98%) level of vaccination and increasing recorded antibody levels, our workforce should be well protected against future infections, though we will continue to implement appropriate protocols.

Dam safety remains a global concern. What was done during the year to ensure enhanced dam safety?

Our alignment with international standards is, by now, well established. We formed internal governance committees, including the Independent Tailings Review Board, led by John  Waites, one of the world's pre-eminent dam-safety experts. External independent reviews were delayed in the first half of the year due to travel restrictions but took place in the second half and were positive. A diligent management programme is in place, incorporating daily inspections, monthly audits and annual external audits.

Can you describe any progress in energy optimisation and renewable-energy projects?

Energy efficiency in the mining industry has always been an area of focus. We draw electricity from the South African grid and have struggled with grid instability since rolling blackouts first began in 2007. We have long been interested in renewable alternatives and conducted several studies as to their viability. There are significant physical constraints to their full-scale adoption, but possibilities are being explored. In 2021 we updated our renewable opportunities schedule and better understood the options available to us, which will assist in further planning.

What are your goals as the Sustainability Committee Chairman for 2022? What are your focus areas for the year ahead?

In terms of CSI, we have set our UN SDG goals, and plan to implement and maintain an CSI investment strategy in this regard, informed by the Needs Analysis conducted in 2021. All subsequent CSI projects will need to support at least two UN SDG goals.

Our climate change strategy will continue to be aligned with the UN SDGs and recommendations of the TCFD.

Safety remains a priority. Each employee deserves to go home safely at the end of every day. Regular site visits, the safety maturity process and the learnings from our interventions in 2021 will inform this focus.

In terms of environmental initiatives, we have an opportunity to increase our rehabilitation programmes in suitable areas and build on the success of the bioremediation pilot plant with the construction of a full-scale plant.

Are there any specific thanks you would like to extend?

I want to thank the Sustainability Committee for their input and support over the year. It is a privilege to be part of a system driven by passionate and competent people generating the funding available to support community initiatives. I want to reiterate that I think the management of the COVID-19 pandemic is the best I have seen anywhere to date – to have almost the entire workforce vaccinated and losing minimal shifts has been a world-class achievement.

Thank you to Danielle Kriel, our HSSE and Sustainability Manager, for setting the standards and ensuring we comply with world-class measures, Brandon de Bruin and senior management - they ensure that those standards are effectively implemented.

It is gratifying to be part of a company that takes governance and sustainability seriously. I am confident that we have the systems of control at Board level to enable comprehensive feedback from management, which is demonstrably passionate and competent in terms of their sustainability focus.