The English Court of Appeal has allowed Zambian citizens from the Copperbelt to sue the holding company of a Zambian mining company that allegedly caused pollution and environmental damage resulting in personal injury, damage to property and loss of income to the Zambian claimants.

The processing and disposal of tailings and other effluent from a mine operated by the local mining company allegedly caused the pollution and environmental damage.

The court applied the duty of care under English law, namely foreseeability, proximity and reasonableness in deciding whether a parent company owed a duty of care to employees of its subsidiary.

The question is whether the parent company had a direct duty to employees of the subsidiary. Where the parent company has taken direct responsibility for devising the health and safety policy of the subsidiary or controls the operations which give rise to the claim, the parent company may be well placed, because of its knowledge and expertise, to protect the employees of the subsidiary. The duty may be owed to those employed and those affected by the local operations of the subsidiary.

It was found that the claimants were low wage earners who did not have the resources to pursue claims in Zambia, had no prospect of getting legal aid from the Zambian state nor other funding, and there were no private lawyers in Zambia willing and capable of taking on the claims (it being stressed that this was no criticism of the Zambian legal system).

The court found that on the facts the claimants would almost certainly not obtain justice in Zambia and the claimants were permitted to sue the head office in the UK.

The case is Lungowe and Others v Vedanta Resources Plc and Another.