Gold Fields ‘distressed’ after survey uncovers rampant workplace bullying

GOLD Fields said it was “distressed” to learn the scale of bullying, racism, and sexual harrassment in the organisation following an internal review.

About 47% of 1,310 employees who participated in a workplace culture survey at the gold producer, conducted by Elizabeth Broderick & Co (EB&Co), a consultancy, said they had experienced bullying.

In addition, 23% of women and 7% of men reported experiencing sexual harassment while 15% of participants had experienced racism. The study also found that 29% of respondents who identify as LGBTIQ+ reported having experienced harassment, with many reluctant to openly acknowledge their status in the workplace.

“The board is distressed at the EB&Co Review findings and the negative impact of these unacceptable behaviours on so many Gold Fields employees and contractors,” said Yunus Suleman, Gold Fields chairperson in a statement.

Another feature of the findings was of the need to integrate contractors in Gold Fields’ business. The group said only a small number of contractors participated in the survey, but feedback nonetheless found contractors complaining of exclusion and full time employees complaining of abuse perpetrated by contractors.

“Harmful behaviours cannot and will not be tolerated in our workplaces,” said Martin Preece, interim CEO of Gold Fields. “These findings show not only the prevalence of these behaviours, but the toll they take on the health and wellbeing of our people,” he said.

Preece said Gold Fields was implementing review findings which included training and awareness programmes and reviewing and updating polices and supporting processes. “We will closely monitor our performance and, as recommended, will commission another independent review within three years to help us assess the progress made,” he said.

The mining sector has a track-record of poor workplace culture. In 2022, BHP apologised for sexual harassment, racism and bullying at mine sites and pledged more to tackle the problem. BHP said previously it had fired at least 48 workers in the past two years for sexual assault and harassment, according to a report by Miningmx.

Also in 2022, Rio Tinto released the results of a survey of 10,000 of its employees on workplace culture. It found that 21 of women at its sites had reported actual or attempted rape or sexual assault over the past five years, and more than a quarter of women had experienced sexual harassment. The report also found that racism and bullying was widespread in both South Africa and Australia.

Gold Fields’ report could give further credence to a view the group is in transition, both culturally and strategically. Most the executive committee that presided over the proposed takeover of Yamana Gold last year have left the company, including CEO Chris Griffith. Paul Schmidt, the firm’s CFO of the last 15 years said earlier this month he intended to leave the company once a replacement was found.

Preece denied there was anything going on in the background not known to the market which had triggered all these resignations. “There’s nothing sinister going on,” he commented.