Summary of findings and company response
Omnia Holdings Limited does not have a separate environmental policy but its safety, health and environmental quality (SHEQ) policy is recorded on the company’s website as follows:
The Omnia Group as a mining, agriculture and chemicals manufacturing, handling, storing and distribution company, recognise that our activities could have an impact on people, communities and the environment within which we operate. We are therefore committed to conducting ethical business practices which maintain and enhance the balance between social and environmental aspects.1
While Omnia’s integrated reports contain a large amount of information relating to the company’s environmental performance (energy efficiency, water consumption etc.), they provide little substantive information about environmental impacts and the company’s compliance with environmental laws. Omnia provided a detailed and considered response to the Full Disclosure assessment of the company’s compliance with environmental laws, and disclosures of non-compliance.
Omnia’s annual reports refer to “environmental incidents”. While the number of environmental incidents are recorded annually in Omnia’s reports, details of these incidents are not provided and it is not clear what criteria are used to classify something as an “environmental incident”. The company’s 2011 annual report seemed to provide details on some of the environmental incidents that had occurred, but Omnia’s SHERQ General Manager, Ms Kavita Pema, indicated in her response to Full Disclosure that “these were not actual incidents that occurred but were provided as an example of the types of environmental incidents which could occur”.
Ms Pema also indicted in her response that “[d]uring reporting periods prior to 2013, there was a lack of consistency in reporting due to the fact that a robust incident classification matrix was not in place resulting in incidents being incorrectly classified and reported”. Ms Pema’s response includes the incident reporting matrix which was subsequently developed for the classification of environmental incidents. This reporting matrix is not included in Omnia’s reports, which instead state, in relation to statistics on environmental incidents, that “[t]his assessment is based on the Omnia incident management and classification matrix which is available on request”.2 It is unclear why the assessment criteria are not provided in the reports. Furthermore, details on the environmental incidents which have occurred in a reporting year should be included in the report.
In relation to reporting on the company’s compliance with environmental laws, Ms Pema states that:
A summary of the environmental compliance particularly related to water and emissions management has been provided in the 2016 Sustainable Development Report. The management of compliance has been an evolving process at Omnia and each year improved management, monitoring and reporting ensures that the various operations maintain compliance.
The information provided in the 2016 Sustainable Development Report is of an environmental performance nature (emission reductions, water use consumption, waste management and recycling and energy consumption), and does not evidence environmental compliance. The information provided under the heading “compliance” in this report does not provide an overall picture on compliance, as it only indicates the status of the company’s various applications for environmental licences.
Omnia’s 2011 annual report refers to “two section 24G Retrospective Authorisations” without disclosing either the amount of the fines paid or the fact that a section 24G application is required when a listed activity has been unlawfully commenced without authorisation, which is also a criminal offence. In her response to Full Disclosure, Ms Pema explains that these section 24G applications were submitted for commencing activities involving the storage and handling of dangerous or hazardous substances “without an Environmental Authorisation at the Killarney Garden site in Cape Town” and that “[t]he fines were R31 000 and R17 500 making a total of R48 500 and were paid in 2010”. In addition to clarifying the nature of these fines, Ms Pema discloses two other fines which were paid for non-compliance with environmental laws in 2014 and 2015, and provides an undertaking that “in future reports such fines and penalties will be disclosed regardless of the monetary value attached to the matter”.
Omnia did not disclose to its shareholders the court proceedings launched against it in 2012 by the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) in relation to Omnia’s refusal of VEJA’s request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act for water monitoring data. Omnia also did not disclose that it opposed the proceedings, claiming that the water monitoring data was confidential commercial information, or that Omnia ultimately in fact provided the requested documents to VEJA and tendered VEJA’s costs.
In her response to Full Disclosure, Ms Pema explains that:
The request for information by VEJA in 2012 was the first engagement of its kind for the Group.
The uncertainty surrounding the request and the lack of communication between both parties regarding the purpose of the request resulted in some mismanagement of the matter. Upon further consideration and understanding of the concerns of VEJA, Omnia reassessed the situation and determined that the request was based on reasonable grounds. All the requested information was provided to VEJA with the offer to engage in follow up discussions if required. The matter was therefore considered to be resolved.
In future reports all efforts will be made to disclose relevant details of stakeholder engagement.
- http://www.omnia.co.za/sustainability/policies (last accessed on 7 November 2016).
- Omnia Holdings Sustainable Development Report 2016, at p47.