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Zambian villagers cleared to sue copper mine in London

The villagers filed a claim in London in 2015 against KCM for toxic pollution caused by water discharged from its unit Nchanga Copper Mines, situated in the central copperbelt region.

Miners at work in a mine shaft. Picture: AFP

LUSAKA - Some 2,000 villagers in Zambia were Wednesday granted permission by the British Supreme Court to sue in Britain over pollution by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources, their representatives said.

The villagers filed a claim in London in 2015 against KCM, Zambia's largest mining company and its London-based parent company, for toxic pollution caused by water discharged from its unit Nchanga Copper Mines, situated in the central copperbelt region.

They claimed to have suffered health problems and loss of income through damage to the land.

KCM and Vedanta then challenged the decision by the Zambian villagers to sue in Britain and the jurisdiction of the English courts to hear their complaint.

The appeal was heard in January this year and on Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled that the claim by the villagers could be heard in London.

"It seems to me that the parent (company) may incur the relevant responsibility to third parties if, in published materials, it holds itself out as exercising that degree of supervision and control of its subsidiaries," read the judgement.

"In such circumstances its very omission may constitute the abdication of a responsibility which it has publicly undertaken."

With Wednesday's verdict, claimants from the village, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, can now be heard in the London High Court.

"This is a very perfect judgement because multinational companies in Africa manipulate everyone starting from the government to the courts," said Robert Chimambo, a Zambian independent environment campaigner.

"They are very powerful here and we can only be assured of a fair judgement in their countries of origin. We need more of such judgements," Chimambo told AFP.

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