Project Title: Critical Assessment of Environmental Sustainability Reporting using the GRI G4 Guidelines: A Case Study of the South African Gold Sector
Supervisors: Prof Jennifer Broadhurst
South Africa’s (SAs) gold mining industry faces complex and severe sustainability challenges. Labelled as a sunset industry, SA’s gold industry has left a legacy of socio-economic inequality, environmental violations and social injustices. With a precarious future, characterized by decreasing ore grade and reserves, and labor and regulation uncertainty, the industry needs to respond to these challenges so that a sustainable legacy can be created.
Mining companies report on their environmental sustainability performance in publicly available annual sustainability reports, in accordance with reporting frameworks such as that developed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). SRs are supposedly key channels for communication with stakeholders, enhancing organizational accountability and thus playing an important role in organizational and societal change. However, the proliferation of standards and the voluntary nature of the reporting results in inconsistencies in the quality of sustainability reports.
This paper investigates the quality of environmental sustainability reporting. This is done through a desk-top study of the application of GRI G4 Guidelines by three South African gold mining companies, as well as semi-structured interviews with representatives from the mining industry as well as external stakeholders.
The study found that the quality of the companies’ sustainability reports were inconsistent on both an inter- and intra-company level, resulting in a lack of standardization, transparency, and comparability, as well as high levels of aggregation and low levels of detail. Materiality, reputation management and the need for concise company-level reports were the main reasons for the lack of detail and aggregated data. Most stakeholders, excluding asset managers, said sustainability reports lacked sufficient detail to support their functions.
The findings provide insight into the limitations of sustainability report that if acknowledged can contribute to more meaningful and honest dialogue. It also highlights the need for more relevant and detailed information for affected stakeholders.
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