How do First Quantum’s operations in Zambia align with its global strategy?
Although First Quantum is a truly global copper company, Zambia remains a hugely important part of our business. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant a difficult year for mining across the globe, and Zambia has been no different. But after a challenging start to the year, it has been encouraging to see the copper price recover. Throughout the pandemic, First Quantum’s two world-class Zambian copper assets, the Sentinel and Kansanshi mines, have continued to perform.
First Quantum reported impressive Q3 performance in 2020. How were you able to achieve this while addressing the ongoing pandemic and resulting disruptions?
Almost all of First Quantum’s operations are delivering lower costs and a number of new production and cost records have also been achieved so far this year. We have maintained a focus on de-leveraging our balance sheet. Despite all the year’s challenges, our workforce and operations continue to show great resilience. This has resulted in a strong operational performance which allowed us to increase production expectations for the Group for the year, and at slightly improved costs.
The company remains focused on ensuring the health and safety of the workforce; and we continue to enforce measures to prevent and manage the transmission of COVID-19 amongst the workforce and the wider communities in which we operate. First Quantum implemented Covid-19 safety measures across its operations very early: social distancing and the wearing of masks has become routine across both Zambian operations. Despite its effects elsewhere, Covid-19 has not greatly impacted Zambia. For example, on 16 November, new cases did not exceed 16 out of 6,129 tests carried out across the whole of the country. The challenge has been the ability to test people in large numbers. Notwithstanding this, the company has not experienced any significant disruption to supply chains and product shipments since the onset of the pandemic. There remain far more pressing environmental, social and governance issues for the country to grapple-with. Malaria and HIV/AIDS continue to present an equally or even greater public health challenge than Covid-19 across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Recognising the importance of our communities, First Quantum assisted Zambia’s Northwestern Province Health Authority to construct a Covid-19 isolation ward with a High Dependency Unit with Intensive Care Unit, all sited at the Provincial Hospital and supplemented with a dependable supply of therapeutic oxygen. We also donated a PRC Covid-19 test machine and a huge amount of PPE, otherwise unavailable to a Provincial Hospital. This was all achieved in full-partnership with the Ministry of Health and has allowed First Quantum to assure business continuity in the face of uncertainty – so far, we’ve been very successful in achieving this.
How is First Quantum engaging with local communities in Zambia?
I have already mentioned our contributions to the local health authorities during the global pandemic, but of course our contributions go much further than this. The not-for-profit Kansanshi and Trident Foundations are constantly supporting development projects to upgrade physical and social infrastructure. We carry out multiple projects and invest in local education, health, farming, water, sanitation and social infrastructures. We recently opened a brand-new maternity ward at the provincial hospital which had been destroyed by storm damage, and we are proud to be supporting 28 schools around the Kansanshi mine, not just with infrastructure including classrooms but also through child nutrition programs and the provision of text books.
Within First Quantum’s sustainability strategy we place a great emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility projects that are specifically developed to assist the communities which host our operations. We recognise that people and communities are affected by our business activities and that we have a responsibility to ensure that they benefit through opportunities such as employment, business development, education and training or community investment over the long term. We can see a clear difference in the standards of living and education in the areas where we operate.
What are First Quantum’s future plans and vision for operations in Zambia?
At the moment, our priority is to maintain our close relationship with the government whilst preserving the productivity of our mines and safeguarding the well-being of our workforce and the communities in which we operate; in short being as good a corporate citizen as we can be. Clearly we are optimistic that the economics of the country will improve to the extent that mining investment will once again become attractive to large foreign investors such as First Quantum.