The Supreme Court in London has allowed Zambian communities consistently polluted by Vedanta Resources’ subsidiary Konkola Copper Mine to have their case against the two corporations tried in the United Kingdom.
This ruling sets a strong legal precedent which will allow people with claims against subsidiaries of British multinationals to sue the parent company in the UK.
The judgment by Chief Justice Lady Hale, and four further judges, re-affirmed the rulings of the Court of Technology and Construction in 2016 and the Court of Appeal in 2017.
Lady Hale refused Vedanta’s pleas in appealing the former judgments stating that, contrary to the claims of Vedanta’s lawyers, the claimants did have a bona fide claim against Vedanta.
“…the company does owe a duty of care to the claimants, especially in view of the existence of company wide policies on environment and health and safety…that the size and complexity of the case, and the lack of funding for claimants at ‘at the poorer end of the poverty scale in one of the poorest countries of the world’ means that do not have substantive access to justice in Zambia,” Lady Hale said.
The 1,826 claimants, represented by UK law firm Leigh Day, are from farming and fishing communities downstream of KCM’s mines and plants.
They claim to have suffered continual pollution since UK firm Vedanta Resources bought KCM in 2004, including a major incident in 2006 which turned the River Kafue bright blue with copper sulphate and acid, and poisoned water sources for 40,000 people.
In 2007, 2,001 claimants took KCM to court in Zambia where KCM was found guilty but denied the communities compensation after a nine-year legal battle. As a result, the victims took their case to UK lawyers.
Chingola resident James Nyasulu, a long term campaigner in the case, and lead claimant in the Zambian cases, said the Supreme Court judgment would finally enable justice for the thousands of victims of pollution by KCM’s mining activities, “who have suffered immensely since 2006 to date, in the Chingola district of Zambia”.
“Their livelihoods, land and health have been irreparably damaged by pollution which has rendered the River Kafue completely polluted and unable to support aquatic life. Some have already died as a result,” added Nyasulu.
“We are very grateful to the British Supreme Court for allowing the case to be tried in the UK where we trust that justice will finally be done. As our thirteen years of legal battles have shown, we have been unable to get justice in Zambia.”
And Foil Vedanta’s Samarendra Das said now that the Supreme Court had confirmed their permission to have the case tried in the UK, the case itself could begin.
“As the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals recognise, sustainable development and access to justice go hand in hand. The judges ruling today recognises and enforces that principle. Criminal companies like Vedanta can no longer so easily whitewash their reputation and assume a ‘cloak of respectability’ by virtue of a London listing. This is an historic day for victims of British multinational’s abuses worldwide,” said Das.
In a further development, Vedanta Resources de-listed from the London Stock Exchange on October 1, 2018, amid global protests following the killing of 13 people, shot by police during protests against the company’s copper smelter in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, India.