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BRITISH mining giant Vedanta is fighting a last-ditch legal battle to stop nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers suing over pollution.
Vedanta Resources Plc is being blamed for turning Zambia’s longest river, the Kafue, bright blue after toxic pollution poured out from a pit run by the company’s subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM).
The pollution is said to have poisoned water sources for 40,000 Zambians, who were unable to obtain compensation through their local courts.
After facing what lawyers described as “overwhelming obstacles” to get justice in Zambia, a group of 1,826 farmers along the Kafue decided to pursue KCM’s parent company Vedanta through courts in Britain, suing for personal injury, damage to property and loss of livelihood caused by a decade of pollution.
Two courts in London found in favour of the farmers, but Vedanta repeatedly appealed against those judgements. The mining giant argues that it cannot be sued in Britain for the actions of its subsidiaries abroad.
The case has now reached a climax at the Supreme Court in London where Vedanta’s legal team is making a last-ditch attempt to avoid paying out millions in compensation.
Vedanta’s barrister Charles Gibson QC told the court today that the farmers’ case was “deeply tiresome” and their “allegations have absolutely no substance.”
Mr Gibson said that Vedanta only agreed to provide KCM advisory services as an independent contractor and that its management agreement showed Vedanta did not have capacity to control KCM.
Before the two-day hearing, Zambian campaigners George Mumbi and Esson Simbeye said their community has “suffered severe pollution of water sources ever since Vedanta took over the mines,” leaving the land “poisoned” and local people “very sick.”
“People used to think British mining companies were better, but Vedanta are one of the worst foreign investors in Zambia,” they said. “It is time that justice came home to roost in Britain.”
Samarendra Das from activist group Foil Vedanta said the company’s “remorseless pollution of the River Kafue since 2005 continues the colonial legacy of environmental racism which made the Zambian copperbelt a global pollution hotspot.”
The villagers’ solicitor, Oliver Holland of Leigh Day, said: “Our clients continue to suffer from the effects of the pollution both on their health and their livelihoods.” He said Vedanta’s appeals had caused years of delay.
British Green Party MP Caroline Lucas expressed solidarity with the Zambian claimants. She lambasted “Vedanta’s irresponsible pursuit of profit,” saying: “When British corporations like Vedanta cause toxic pollution overseas, it’s absolutely right that they pay for the damage.”
The case could have far-reaching implications for other British multinational corporations such as Shell, which use a network of subsidiaries around the world.
Nimmo Bassey, a close associate of the murdered Nigerian anti-Shell activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, said: “The Vedanta case mirrors the Niger Delta situation and underscores the critical need for solidarity between communities impacted by mining across the continent — indeed, across the world.”
The case continues.
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