Glencore, the world's largest diversified commodities trader
Glencore, the world’s largest diversified commodities trader

Mining giant to pay damages after court rules sulphur dioxide emissions at copper plant led to death of politician

Toxic fumes from one of Glencore’s copper plants in Zambia caused the death of a politician, the African country’s high court said, in a ruling that could trigger fresh claims against the company.

The London-listed mining and commodities trader was ordered to pay 400,000 Zambian kwacha (£30,000) in damages to the widower of Beatrice Mithi, apolitician who died after inhaling sulphur dioxide released by Glencore subsidiary Mopani Copper Mines.

The ruling in June means Glencore could face new claims from residents of the Mufulira district, where local people have long complained of health problemsallegedly caused by emissions from Mopani’s copper smelter.

Laywers for Glencore contested the claim, citing an environmental indemnity agreement signed with the Zambian government in 2000.

However, a judge in Kabwe, in Zambia’s Copperbelt region,ruled that the agreement did not apply because sulphur dioxide emissions had exceeded legal limits.

“By emitting sulphur dioxide into the environment exceeding statutory limitations [Mopani Copper Mines] breached its duty of care owed to her [Mithi] and the community,” the ruling said.

Mr Justice Sichinga also dismissed evidence from two doctors, who claimed that asthma, diabetes and heart problems may have caused her death.

The legal battle featured in the Rundschau programme on the SRF TV channel in Switzerland.

A postmortem found that Mithi died from “acute respiratory failure due to inhalation of toxic fumes” at a church service on New Years’ Eve in 2013.
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The FTSE 100 firm completed a £300m project in 2014 to build an acid plant to raise the capture of sulphur dioxide from 50% to 97%.

The Switzerland-based commodities and mining giant is appealing against the decision in Zambia’s supreme court.

In a statement, Glencore cited “procedural irregularities” in the ruling, saying the judge did not consider evidence that its defence team submitted.

Glencore said the judge “misinterpreted” defence evidence and disputed any link between emmissions at Mopani’ and Mithi’s death.

Traidcraft, which is campaigning for greater legal accountability for companies operating overseas, said: “This is yet another case of an irresponsible company, listed in the UK, causing serious harm through its operations in a developing country.

“The decision of the Zambian high court in this case is welcome, but it’s hard to see how it will have much of a deterrent effect on this or other companies.

“The government have an opportunity right now to deal with this. They are looking at how to prosecute companies for ‘white collar’ crimes but this could be extended to consider other serious corporate crimes, including failure to deal with severe pollution or causing deaths.”

Glencore bought Mopani Copper Mines in 2000, inheriting a longstanding sulphur emissions problem that has fuelled simmering tension with the community.Anger at emissions erupted in riots in August 2014.

It has previously enjoyed immunity from claims relating to the period between 2000 and 2014 thanks to its environmental liability agreement.

www.theguardian.com

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6 COMMENTS

  1. This is a good start. If companies can start to be held accountable, maybe we can get serious with having regulators with teeth. Nomba please make sure even politician companies are held to the same standard.

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  2. There are many shady companies that hail from abroad to come and “invest” in Africa, including Zambia. These companies, some of which may be already in our country and several other African countries, need to be thoroughly and vigorously vetted before you do any business with them. Some are outright crooked enterprises, run by mobs, masquerading as businessmen. They’re run by cunning “executives,” who are highly sophisticated, silver tongued, shiny shoed, double- breasted suits, briefcases, well manicured fingernails, and wearing very expensive cologne. Don’t be a sucker and fall for their deception. Have some serious background checks done on them before you agree to do any business with them. Check with the business bureau of their country of origin. Contact their governments…

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    • (Continued)… in their countries, and see if they recognize them as genuine businessmen. Find out from other companies they may have done business with in the past. Read their contracts carefully, paying attention to the fine print. Never take their word as gospel truth. Trust, but verify, as Reagan liked to say. Remember the Cecil Rhodes/Lobengula concession strategy is still alive and well to this day. Don’t get fooled. Secondly, the Zambian government should make sure the government officials appointed to deal with such people are well exposed, sophisticated enough to make deals with foreign companies. Someone who has lived in a developed country for some considerable time is a plus. Make sure he or she knows what they’re doing and cannot be easily fooled. And please, stop…

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  3. (Continued)… allowing these foreign sophisticated people to make concessions with village chiefs, some of who lack proper education and exposure. Sadly, this is already happening in Zambian where chiefs are being fooled into signing their people’s land away. Wake up government officials. Again I emphasize. Stop allowing chiefs to do concessions with foreign, sophisticated organizations. Tell all the chiefs that if someone shows up in their village, they should not sign anything, but should refer such people to government officials. I don’t know much about this Glencore company, so I won’t say much about them. But there’s an interesting video on YouTube called: Stealing Africa–Why Poverty? It starts somewhere in Europe, but it’s all about Zambia. If you care about Zambia, take…

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