UK Supreme court rules Zambians can sue Vedanta in English courts

On 10 Apr 2019, the Supreme Court has ruled that a case brought by almost 2,000 Zambian villagers against Konkola Copper Mines and its parent company Vedanta Resources PLC can be heard by the English courts.



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12 April 2019

Zambian farmers can take Vedanta to court over water pollution. What are the legal implications?

Author: Gabrielle Holly, Omnia Strategy LLP

Gabrielle Holly at Omnia Strategy LLP analyses the UK Supreme Court's landmark decision.

This morning, the Supreme Court delivered its much anticipated judgment in Vedanta Resources PLC and anor v Lungowe v and ors. In a unanimous decision, the court found that a claim brought by a group of Zambian villagers against UK-based Vedanta Resources Plc and its Zambian subsidiary, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), could proceed in the UK.

The duty of care

The claimants in Vedanta and other similar cases (Okpabi and ors v Royal Dutch Shell plc and anor and AAA and ors v Unilever and anor) have all relied on the case of Chandler v Cape Plc to argue that a UK parent company could owe a duty of care to those affected by acts of a foreign subsidiary.

Chandler set out a series of factors which established that the parent company in that case owed a duty of care to the employees of its subsidiary. However, though tried and tested, these factors have not been an easy fit for subsequent claims.

In a significant step, the Supreme Court in Vedanta confirmed that the Chandler factors are not the only path available to prospective claimants. It found that the relevant duty in parent company cases can be established by reference to basic tort principles rather than the “straitjacket derived from the Chandler case” (at [60])...

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Author: La Fiva

« Les Zambiens peuvent engager une action en justice pour pollution dans les mines devant les tribunaux anglais », 10 avril 2019 

Deux mille villageois zambiens qui affirment que leur vie a été détruite par un ruissellement toxique provenant de la deuxième plus grande mine à ciel ouvert au monde ont obtenu le droit de faire une réclamation devant les tribunaux anglais.

Dans un arrêt historique, la Cour suprême a jugé que le conglomérat minier Vedanta Resources, basé à Londres, et sa filiale zambienne Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) pouvaient être tenus pour responsables par les juges anglais, malgré les arguments des sociétés selon lesquels ils devaient se défendre eux-mêmes en Zambie.

La décision ouvre la porte à toute une série d'autres actions en justice à l'encontre de sociétés mères basées au Royaume-Uni pour les actions de leurs filiales à l'étranger…

Les demandeurs d'asile ont d'abord comparu devant un tribunal de Londres en 2015, alléguant leur négligence et leur violation de l'obligation légale de rejet d'effluents, mais avant de pouvoir procéder, Vedanta a contesté la compétence des tribunaux anglais…

Un élément clé de l'affaire concernait les affirmations dans la littérature d'entreprise publiée par Vedanta – une entreprise d'une valeur de 10 milliards £ – selon lesquelles elle assumerait la responsabilité des normes environnementales et de durabilité dans l'ensemble du groupe. Il avait accepté de se poursuivre devant les tribunaux zambiens aux côtés de KCM, mais les juges de la Cour suprême ont souscrit à l'argument des requérants selon lequel ils risquaient de ne pas avoir accès à la justice en Zambie…

La plainte contre Vedanta et KCM peut maintenant être traitée devant la haute cour.

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10 April 2019

UK: Supreme Court rules Zambian villagers' case against Vedanta to be heard in English courts

Author: Leigh Day

The claimants allege that as a result of the toxic effluent discharge from the Nchanga Copper Mine which is run by KCM they have suffered loss of livelihoods through damage to the land and waterways and health problems through having to consume and use polluted water. Now that jurisdiction has been determined their claims will be heard in the High Court at a date to be determined. As part of the judgment today the Supreme Court also ruled that companies can be held to account for the commitments they make publicly regarding their subsidiaries and their commitments to the communities they serve...

The claimants, represented by law firm Leigh Day, have been fighting for four years to have their case heard in the English courts. They argued that they would not be able to achieve justice in the Zambian courts due to the lack of funding available for claimants in such claims and the lack of legal representatives with the necessary qualifications and experience to properly bring the case. The Supreme Court agreed with these arguments. The court also determined that there is a triable issue between the claimants and Vedanta, as well as KCM, and that Vedanta arguably owes a duty of care to the claimants as the parent company of KCM. 

Oliver Holland, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day representing the Zambians, said:

“After four years fighting for this case to be heard by the English courts we are delighted that our clients’ case can now go ahead in the UK where there is a real opportunity for justice. “Our clients argued that as the UK-based parent company of KCM, Vedanta also had a duty of care towards them and should be held responsible for the damage they allege has been caused by the mine. Indeed in Vedanta’s own published materials the company claims to have control over the mine and to have responsibility for the proper standards of environmental control across its subsidiaries. The court has ruled today that Vedanta cannot merely pay lip service to these statements and must be held accountable for them.”

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10 April 2019

UK: Supreme Court rules Zambians can sue miner Vedanta

Author: Jane Croft, Financial Times (UK)

Thousands of Zambian villagers can bring a legal challenge in the English courts against mining company Vedanta over alleged pollution in Zambia, the UK’s highest court ruled on Wednesday. The Supreme Court said that the lawsuit brought by 1,800 Zambian villagers can be heard in London despite arguments by Vedanta that the case should be tried by the Zambian courts. It ruled that the lawsuit could proceed in England because the claimants, who are all living in poverty, would struggle to access justice in Zambia and the country does not permit “no win no fee” arrangements for claimants to pay legal fees...

The ruling is significant because it paves the way for more environmental claims to be brought in London against large multi nationals with global operations — particularly from claimants living in poorer countries where there is a difficulty in accessing legal funding. The ruling also indicates that companies have a duty of care to third parties for the commitments they make publicly regarding their subsidiaries...

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10 April 2019

Vedanta Resources and subsidiary to face justice in the UK over human rights harms in Zambia

Author: CORE Coalition & Internatinal Commission of Jurists (ICJ)

Today, the ICJ and the CORE Coalition welcomed the decision of the United Kingdom Supreme Court to allow a complaint to proceed against Vedanta Resources Plc and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), alleging serious harm from extraction activities in Zambia.

The damage to health and livelihood was allegedly caused to local communities living in the Chingola District by the discharge of toxic waste from the Nchanga Mine operated by KCM.

The companies challenged the jurisdiction of the UK courts to hear the complaint for negligence and breach of statutory duty, saying there was no case against them arguable in a UK court and, in relation to KCM, that Zambia was the proper forum where any case would have to be heard.

The judgment, confirming the decision of lower courts, dismissed the appeal by the companies, allowing the case to now proceed to trial on the merits. The ICJ and CORE Coalition acted as interveners in the case...

“The ruling makes clear that, from available evidence at this stage, it is arguable in trial that a parent company like Vendanta owes a duty of care in relation to people living in the vicinity of their subsidiaries and this decision will have important implications to similar cases concerning parent company duties around the world,” said Lopez [of the ICJ].

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10 April 2019

Vedanta Resources PLC and another (Appellants) v Lungowe and others (Respondents)

Author: UK Supreme Court

[Full text of the judgment allowing the case to be heard in English courts]

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