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Claude Schimper, KINROSS GOLD: benefitting people in balance with nature

Claude Schimper, Senior Vice President for Production Management in Russia, Kinross Gold, told EastRussia about how it was possible to maintain the level of gold mining during the pandemic, about working with the authorities, about logistics at Chulbatkan and about responsibility to people and nature.

Claude Schimper, KINROSS GOLD: benefitting people in balance with nature
Photo: Evgeny Luchinsky, Roscongress Foundation

- The results of Kinross Gold's work in 2020 look very good, for 2023 production growth is planned by 20%. Is it a low base effect due to the pandemic, or is it related to new projects?

- Of course, the pandemic has become for us, as well as for everyone, a serious challenge in 2020. But we coped with it thanks to several factors, the main of which was our employees. Our team rallied, was able to get together and promptly respond to the situation. It should be noted also effective interaction at the regional level - with the authorities and departments of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, where our production is located, and representatives of the Khabarovsk Territory, where we are just starting to implement our plans. The combination of these factors made it possible to build the work on an uninterrupted basis and reach the planned parameters.

As for the growth of production, this is both a stake on a new project in the Khabarovsk Territory, and on synergy from the development of deposits in Chukotka - in parallel with the work of existing enterprises, we are conducting geological exploration in order to ensure an increase in the mineral resource base. All this allows us to talk about future prospects. 

- What does the Russian division look like against the background of other Kinross Gold divisions?

- First of all, I want to note that there is no competitive aspect - we do not compete with the company's enterprises in other regions of our presence. Our key task is efficiency and transparency of our activities. The results of production, safety, life and health of employees and local residents, care for the interests of indigenous and small-numbered peoples in the territories where we work, implementation of rationalization proposals are important for us. Thus, we are not talking about competition, but about bringing something new, taking something useful from other regions and thereby increasing the quality of our work.

Each region is unique both in its challenges and in its capabilities. And we - the Kinross group of companies in Russia - are trying to reach a level that we could be proud of. And yes, although we say that we are not in competition, but when the other regions of our production are asked: “What results does the company show in Russia?”, We are told that we are one of the best. 

- Kinross has been in Russia for 25 years and I think you can compare the time when you just started and the current time of the authorities' special attention to the Far East. Could you assess the complex government measures. What works especially well, what doesn't work? What support measures would you introduce additionally?

- I myself have been working in Russia for 11 years and I cannot fail to note the obvious changes in the attitude and perception of our enterprise. This is a movement from different sides: work on our part to study and better understand the specifics of doing business in Russia, and in the same way, work is underway on the part of local municipal, regional and federal authorities: they accumulate experience for more effective interaction with foreign investors. In addition, it should be noted the high speed with which the authorities of different levels adapt and react to what is happening. What seemed a little realistic recently is already happening. For example, some time ago we came out with a proposal to introduce a declarative principle for geological exploration of subsoil use areas. After agreement by all parties to this process, it is now in operation and is actively used by subsoil users, including our company. And this is what I admire about working in Russia - that such changes can and do occur. 

- How is the quality of management of local authorities changing, and is it changing?

- We see openness to dialogue and feel support at all levels of government. I can cite the Khabarovsk Territory as an example. We are starting a new project here, together with the authorities of the Khabarovsk Territory we have formed a working group, which includes both the company's specialists and representatives of the relevant ministries and departments of the Khabarovsk Territory. This format turned out to be very effective, despite the fact that in such large-scale projects it is usually not easy to resolve all existing issues related to working with permits and other activities. 

- You literally "took off my tongue" my next question - on the eve you met with the head of the Khabarovsk Territory just on the development of the Chulbatkanskoye field. I would like to know the details of this project, as well as plans for the next year in general.

- As in the case of any other project of this kind, its implementation is preceded by a long preliminary stage, which includes the registration of permits for environmental activities, various types of environmental expertise, engineering surveys, works both directly at the site of future development, and development of a scientific base. The coronavirus has made its own amendments to this process - difficulties arose even in relatively simple situations when it was necessary to deliver workers to and from the sites - many processes had to be rebuilt taking into account coronavirus restrictions. But, I repeat, the format of the working group created turned out to be very useful and effective - it made it possible to promptly resolve emerging issues. And thanks to this, we are meeting the target dates and are planning to go into operation in 2025. 

- The Far East is always a long distance. What do the supply chains look like in this case - in relation to Chulbatkan? Or after what you had to organize in Chukotka - these are "children's toys"?

- Again, each region is unique, and the logistics component is different everywhere. Chukotka is the Far North and logistics there is a very complex issue in the context of the implementation of various elements, be it engineering, construction or operation. In comparison with these conditions, the Khabarovsk Territory offers more opportunities, new logistics chains - in particular, river transport, which can be used to deliver goods to the site. However, not all infrastructure is in actual readiness, so sometimes it takes time to prepare the corresponding elements of this infrastructure - for example, the construction of an airfield on the site. Or, say, there is a road, but it requires modernization, bringing it into proper condition. On the other hand, we have been working in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug for several years and we have experience in the annual arrangement of a winter road - from November to December we equip a 300-kilometer road, which includes crossings across six rivers. This is a difficult task. And at the same time, we note that the intensity of movement of transport of the local population and other organizations along our road increases every year. And in this regard, we are working with the regional authorities, district authorities, organizations of indigenous and small-numbered peoples in order to ensure compliance with road safety rules during the operation of this "winter road" at the level that is applied in our company. 

- That is, the road infrastructure that Kinross will build in the Khabarovsk Territory will be accessible to local residents, just like in Chukotka?

- Yes. So far we have not made a final decision on which logistics option to give preference to. They are still being worked out. That is, it is not a fact that we will be building all possible transport routes, such as the construction of an airfield. But turning to our experience in Chukotka - yes, local communities use our infrastructure there. I see this as one of the advantages for local residents - that they can use what we have built and created. Or, like now, when we are working on a feasibility study for the construction of a power transmission line in the Nikolaevsky area - from Nikolaevsk-on-Amur to Chulbatkan, we are considering the possibility of connecting nearby villages to this power line. That is, all the work is carried out in order to have the most positive effect on the life of the local population. Everything that we do and build should benefit people. And be in balance with nature. 

- Today it is difficult to do business without thinking about sustainable development. Tell us about your sustainability programs, what is the essence of Kinross's approach to sustainable development?

- Speaking about our approach, I would like to avoid the cliché about “fish and rod” and talk about the tool that we have implemented in Chukotka - the Kupol Social Development Fund. Often, companies are guided by stereotypes and give local communities what they themselves think is right to give, without building a dialogue with them. Our approach is to listen and understand existing needs and opportunities, and through dialogue, understand what will work for the common good in the long term. I personally had such an experience of communicating with the elder of one of the communities, who told me that there is evidence that their ancestors lived in the same place on the banks of the river two thousand years ago. And her concern was connected with the fact that we did not violate the environment in which they live now, so that it would remain in the same form for their descendants. If we imagine the most optimistic scenario, then in one place we can work for 50 years - if there are enough supplies, but all our actions are arranged in such a way that the community exists after we leave that territory, and so that it is not survival. but a truly quality life. And this result is achieved only in dialogue, and I listen more than I speak. And now, returning again to our new project in the Khabarovsk Territory, we have a unique opportunity to show the local communities the results of our work in Chukotka, so that they can see for themselves how we do business. This is also my personal criterion, so that I am not assessed for my words, but for my actions. We are going to offer those who wish from among the local residents of the Khabarovsk Territory a trip to our existing facilities in Chukotka so that they can see everything for themselves. This is also a form of dialogue that clearly shows people our values ​​and what we are aiming for.

If we talk about corporate social responsibility, we place a serious emphasis on medicine, we stimulate sports - this also significantly improves the quality of life, and, of course, education.

Another important component of our approach to sustainable development, which we have implemented in Chukotka, is training the local population in the basics of environmental legislation. We came up with such a proposal to the local authorities to organize such training so that people better understand what is being done, how and why. And in the Khabarovsk Territory, we are going to act in the same transparent way. After all, people tend to doubt and worry - "What kind of enterprise is this?", "What is it doing with our water?" And such trainings, such training gives people knowledge, equips them with criteria for assessing what is being done, removes mistrust. 

- But one way or another, the impact on the environment occurs. What are you doing to minimize the impact?

- First of all, we build all our production processes in strict accordance with environmental legislation. We do this at all levels, and this, of course, is the absolute minimum of what we are obliged to do, and in fact we are doing much more. We are constantly looking for new instrumental and methodological possibilities in order to increase our efficiency. For example, we support ornithological research in Chukotka - bird migration routes, and we have been doing this for 15 years. We work with the local population and administrations of villages and districts to monitor the number of deer and bears. We are working closely with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to better understand what needs to be done. And let it sound immodest, but for a number of years we have been highly appreciated by WWF representatives. In addition, we have divisions that deal with land reclamation after the completion of mining operations. Therefore, we can safely say that we have high achievements in environmental protection. At the same time, we adopt and use the best world practices in order to get away from this stereotype that mining is necessarily associated with a negative impact on nature.

By the way, our company was the first in Russia to receive a certificate of compliance with the International Cyanide Management Code. There is also an educational moment here - other enterprises in the region, looking at us, understand what and how can and should be done.

In a nutshell, it is impossible to list everything Kinross does to minimize environmental impact - listing the equipment alone can be very long - this is a reverse osmosis treatment plant, a multi-stage water filtration system to provide the same composition of groundwater that existed before US.

It is important to note that a key aspect of our approach is the ongoing nature of conservation work. This work is carried out constantly, every day.

I've been in the mining industry my whole life. In his youth, he lived in a house by the lake across the street from the enterprise. And I am convinced that no matter how much money is required to keep the lake clean. And therefore, it is not about the awards that we received for the preservation of the environment, the key question is: "Why is all this being done?", "Why are new ways to protect nature being looked for?" We are not doing this for the sake of awards, we are doing this because this is a matter of the future, it is a matter of reputation. And every - literally every - of our employees has been trained in environmental protection. Even when he is not at work, but at home or in some other place, he will take care of the environment, pay attention to it. And everyone benefits from this. Here I would quote the words of Henry Ford. He came to work at five in the morning, left at six in the evening. One of his employees asked him: "You have so much money, why do you still go to work?" And Ford said, "To make more money." "How much more?" - "A little more." Therefore, when our employees ask the question: "How much more effort and resources will we invest in sustainable development, safety, and environmental protection?" My answer: "A little more." Again, the standards are becoming obsolete. What suited you yesterday will not work today. Therefore, once again - we are not doing this for the sake of awards, but in order to do the right thing. Ultimately, no one will remember how much money this or that company earned, but if this company has caused harm to the environment, everyone will remember it for sure. 

- The "green trend" has become worldwide and ubiquitous. Some mining companies are reporting on the purchase of a large number of trucks on electric traction - they say, this will have a positive effect on environmental protection, and reduce harmful emissions. Do you buy them too, or are you going to do it?

- Before adopting this or that new technology, we always carefully evaluate it. Moreover, now new technologies appear almost every week. The policy of our company is to first see how the new product will prove itself, how it is being implemented. An integrated approach with the use of modern technologies made us what we are now. In my opinion, building the right balance is an important element. It should also be remembered that many new technologies have gone to waste.

Tell us a little about yourself - how much time do you spend at work in Russia?

- If we talk about "dock-like" times, then somewhere around 250-280 days a year I spent in Russia, the last years, of course, have made their own adjustments, especially in terms of international travel. Now, little by little, everything is being restored and I think that I will switch to the same regime. 

- I won't ask if you feel like a Russian, but maybe there was something that in the first days or months surprised you very much in the behavior of Russians, in their habits, and now you yourself have adopted them?

- In general, I have visited many countries and my approach is this - to perceive and enjoy every culture in which you are. Both my wife and my children often came to Russia. We like everything here: first of all, the environment, we have great relations here. Russian colleagues impress with their professionalism and desire to do their job with the highest quality. They are very sincere and open in dialogue, so it is easy for us to find a common language.

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