Raising the bar: Why ESG should be at the heart of mining operations

In times of economic uncertainty, ethical business decisions can fall by the wayside. Natalie Bellis, CEO, explains how the Seventy Ninth Group do things differently by maintaining an ethical approach to business, deeply embedding ESG policies into our operations and reaffirming our commitment to our long-term ESG goals.

In such times of economic uncertainty as we find ourselves today, ethical business decisions are sometimes deprioritised or left by the wayside. However, it is my belief that this is precisely the time when these commitments matter the most.

At the Seventy Ninth Group, we’re proud to do things differently. As such, our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies and practices play a significant role in our business strategy and are deeply embedded into our approach. During this time of global uncertainty, we are reaffirming our commitments to our long-term ESG goals, and we continue to deliver on our promise to invest in the communities in which we operate.

Since joining the Seventy Ninth Group, my priority has always been to ensure we are proactive in our approach to ESG. Our efforts have led us to receive our ISO 14001 and Green Mark accreditations, and we’re proud to adhere to the principles within the United Nations Global Compact initiative – all of which we successfully passed in our recent audits, and for the last 18 months.

We’re transparent about our efforts, as we know everything we do will help move the business forward. We’re always looking to the future and planning ahead, which is why we can remain calm in times of uncertainty and remain committed to important long-term practices.

Domestically and abroad, the Seventy Ninth Group has long been involved in community work. From our contributions to local charities and donating to organisations across the UK, to our outreach and Red Cross training programmes in the Republic of Guinea over the years, giving back to the community is at the heart of everything we do.

Investing in relationship building and putting in the groundwork

The time we’ve invested getting to know the local people and our efforts to understand the needs of the community, has provided us with access to valuable local knowledge, insight, and resources we may not otherwise have. This has undoubtedly helped to ensure our work in the region has been a success so far, especially in regard to our recent drilling campaign.[i]

I believe that investing in people is a wise decision for the future, and you reap the rewards in your projects. If we put the work in to build strong relationships based on mutual trust and respect, in the long run, these relationships become invaluable. This is something the Webster family have experienced first-hand with their work in the Republic of Guinea.

They’ve put in the groundwork for over a decade, spending time in the region, and building relationships with elders, officials, and leaders, as well as the local communities. When Dave first travelled to Guinea, it was a much smaller operation, but he was still just as willing to go over, spend the time, and put in the work. To this day, that approach has not faltered.

Not only have we spent time developing relationships with local people but also with leading experts, who have helped us ensure our operations are run to the highest of standards. For example, we have worked with our exploration partners SRK Exploration for a number of years now, and they’ve been a key part of the operations in Guinea since the beginning, helping us to get to the stage we’re at now, hitting the huge milestone of drilling commencement at our flagship concession.

A hands-on approach

Throughout the years and still to this day, we’re still very hands-on in Guinea. Dave and I have just returned from an unforgettable trip, where we visited our head office team in Conakry and got to see the drilling campaign first-hand. We witnessed gold recovery from our Lusso South concession site, which was an incredibly rewarding experience. Whilst we were out there, we also met with several local community groups and immersed ourselves in local activities.

This trip has solidified the significant step forward we have taken over the past 12 months across our natural resources division. It marks the first of many trips we’ll be taking to Guinea, as myself and the rest of the leadership team are dedicated to being actively involved with each of our projects and taking steps to engage with the communities in which we operate and give back where we can.

Our long-term commitment to Guinea

Since joining the company, I have always worked closely with people from Guinea, whether that be our in-country team or our legal partners, but it became increasingly important for me to visit the country as we roll out our drilling strategy and community initiatives further across our other concessions.

Our In-Country Manager, Eric Ntube, and the head office team in Conakry planned a full itinerary for us which allowed Dave and I to see everything first-hand, meet all the teams, speak with local officials, engage with the local communities and gain a richer understanding of the culture there.

When we arrived in Conakry, we were greeted by a traditional welcome ceremony. It was amazing to see different aspects of their culture through this performance, and I felt truly honoured to be welcomed so warmly. Throughout the trip, I had several opportunities to immerse myself in the surrounding communities, get to know the local people and partake in traditional ceremonies.

We took a trip to Kolemboma, a neighbouring village close to our flagship concession, where we were greeted by tribal elders and introduced to the wider community.

It was incredibly enriching to sit down with the local people as they shared with us invaluable knowledge and insight into their daily lives and the country. It was an honour to meet with the deputy mayor and prefect to discuss our ongoing drilling campaign.

All of this allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the wants and needs of the local people, which helps further our ESG commitments in Guinea and builds upon the great work already done by Eric Ntube and his team, which he detailed in his recent journal for the Seventy Ninth Group.[ii]

It was a great moment to witness our community partners recovering gold from our concessions. This highlighted how far we’ve come, and this milestone is incredibly exciting for us. Visiting the drilling site allowed us to oversee the seamless operations taking place thanks to our incredible exploration partners SRK Exploration Services and our 36 employees on site, who we ensured were all provided with the highest quality trade-specific, health and safety and first aid training.

The training provided to each of the operational, construction and security employees on site has not only helped to ensure a high quality of work is carried out on site but also leaves each of the team with transferable skills for their careers. All our employees are an asset to us, not only through their work on-site but by sharing their local experience and valuable knowledge, which has gone a long way in helping our operation become a success. I’m incredibly grateful to each and every one of them.

At the head office in Conakry, I had the opportunity to meet the team face-to-face, including Dansira and Josephine, the two amazing women who work there.

Championing women in mining is incredibly important to me. In this historically male-dominated industry, women are underrepresented at all levels within mining companies. Female representation within mining company C-suites sits at just 13%[iii], so I want to help women leaders in the mining industry bring about change and shift the balance by encouraging and supporting more women entering the sector. The ongoing training Eric is providing will also hopefully help these women progress into more senior positions and allow for more women to enter the industry.

As we met with more locals in neighbouring villages during our visit, we recognised a shared issue across the communities we visited during our outreach: the lack of opportunities, work, and education for women and young people. To help address this, we partnered with a local school to provide further education and ensure young people are trained with skills in agriculture, giving them career opportunities beyond mining.

We’re also providing support for further training and income-generating initiatives for youth and women’s groups. All of these initiatives are core aspects of our ESG approach, as well as being of great personal importance to me. All the work we do in these areas is very close to my heart.

A hands-on approach is something we carry across every project we take on. And in Guinea, it has continued as the projects have grown and evolved. The mutually rewarding nature of these relationships is not something I take for granted; local knowledge and local trust are key. So, maintaining this hands-on approach and giving back to the communities is something we fully intend to continue. Central to everything we do in Guinea is ensuring that the local communities are at the heart of our operations, and we are committed to making this a reality.

Staying on the front foot with our ESG initiatives

At the Seventy Ninth Group, we’ve always maintained an ethical approach to business. It’s embedded within everything we do, and every move we make is carefully considered to ensure we’re making the most ethical decision. This is how we remain on the front foot with our ESG initiatives and continue to thrive even during times of global hardship.

When you operate in such a way that ESG is at the heart of your approach, you naturally make the most environmentally and socially beneficial decisions, and it’s easy to maintain your purpose-led commitments no matter the external situation. Working for the Seventy Ninth Group has been a breath of fresh air, and I encourage more businesses to consider this approach.

[i] Eric Ntube, Doing things the right way: An inside look into the day-to-day operations in the lead-up to our drilling campaign, The Seventy Ninth Journal, https://the79thgroup.co.uk/doing-things-the-right-way/

[ii] Eric Ntube, Doing things the right way: An inside look into the day-to-day operations in the lead-up to our drilling campaign, The Seventy Ninth Journal, https://the79thgroup.co.uk/doing-things-the-right-way/

[iii] McKinsey & Company, Why women are leaving the mining industry and what mining companies can do about it, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/metals-and-mining/our-insights/why-women-are-leaving-the-mining-industry-and-what-mining-companies-can-do-about-it