UK lawsuit of Zambian farmers against Vedanta illustrates inequality of arms for people in poorer countries to hold multinationals to account, says expert
"The Zambian farmers who are suing a mining company in a British court", 15 Feb 2019
…In 2004, London-listed Vedanta Resources plc. acquired a 51% interest in Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), one of the most important Zambian state companies sold off to private investors. Vedanta now owns 80% of KCM…[which] is now one of Africa’s largest integrated copper producers with mines at three sites.
The UK case against Vedanta was brought in 2015 by 1,826 people (“Lungowe and others”)…[fighting] for justice for…devastation to their land and livelihoods through water pollution from KCM’s Nchanga copper mine.
In 2016, the UK High Court rejected Vedanta’s argument that the farmers should not be permitted to bring their case in London. The judge found that, despite recent reforms to the Zambian justice system, the claimants would not obtain justice if they pursued a case against KCM in Zambia. Two years later, following a further appeal from Vedanta, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling. Vedanta appealed again and on 15-16 January the case was heard at the Supreme Court.
The outcome of the Vedanta hearing hangs on whether the company arguably owes a duty of care to the Zambian claimants [when] in 2012 the Court of Appeal held that, under certain circumstances, a parent company could owe a legal duty of care to employees of its subsidiaries.
The claimants point to company documents…that they say show the parent company exercised an unusual level of control, direction and knowledge over KCM and should therefore be held legally responsible for the damage arising from the pollution. Vedanta’s lawyers, on the other hand, argue that the company’s UK headquarters is a separate legal entity with insufficient control over the Zambian subsidiary to be held liable…