SOAS University of London

“Make Pollution Political”: Toxic Pollution, Multinational Companies and the search for Justice through the Court

Samarendra Das & Zuky Serper

Date: 13 March 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 13 March 2019Time: 8:30 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4426

Type of Event: Talk

The impacts of the operation of Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) in Zambia, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources, a UK mining company, have polluted and harmed the lives of neighbouring communities for over a decade.

In January 2019, the UK Supreme Court heard the claims of these communities. During the hearing, Vedanta’s attempted to overturn the High Court and Court of Appeal rulings which held that the case of 1,826 polluted farmers against the company and its subsidiary KCM could be heard in the UK instead of Zambia. 

The ruling could have major implications for British multinational corporations’ liability, creating an important precedent for suing parents companies for environmental and human rights breaches: if a duty of care is found to be owed by Vedanta (as a UK Company) towards the claimants, this would be the first reported case in which a parent company would have been held to owe a duty of care to a person affected by the operations of a subsidiary who is not an employee of the subsidiary.

Solidarity for Zambian victims has been extended by British political figures. Caroline Lucas, UK Green Party MP stated: “When British corporations like Vedanta cause toxic pollution overseas, it’s absolutely right that they pay for the damage. I stand in solidarity with all those whose drinking water has been poisoned and livelihoods damaged by Vedanta’s irresponsible pursuit of profit, and all those campaigning for justice.”

In this seminar, we hear from two influential activists of solidarity organisation Foil Vedanta. Foil Vedanta first drew attention in the UK to this case in their report Copper Colonialism, submitted to Zambia High Commission in 2014. Foil Vedanta stood outside the Court throughout the event, with the communities which have been suffering from the on-going pollution, and who have been fighting legal battles for justice in Zambia, and now the UK, for twelve years.

Samarendra Das an activist and London based documentary filmmaker. Founder of Foil Vedanta, Das team research unraveled the complex workings of mining multinational Vedanta Resources Ltd., exposed illegal breaches of national and international labour, human rights and environmental law, and financial irregularities while registered in London Stock Exchange (LSE). Recent ‘Vedanta’s Billions’ report by Foil Vedanta was submitted to the Financial Conduct Authrority (FCA). In October 2018 Vedanta’s was delisted from the LSE. Foil Vedanta Das played an important part protecting Niyamgiri, the Dongria Khond’s sacred mountain, in 2013, and in bringing recently the environmental liability of River Kafue ongoing pollution in Zambian Copperbelt to London courts of justice. Foil Vedanta is currently monitoring Vedanta’s copper smelter operation in Tamil Nadu, India, following its shutdown after the 22 May 2018 police shooting that killed 14 protestors against the three decades long polluting copper industry there.

Das is an expert on impacts of mining on environment and indigenous people, and lectures nationally and internationally about the financial structures of the extractive industries. His coming book is about the history of Iron Ore mining.

Zuky Serper works for Foil Vedanta and convenes the Activists and Academia Forum at the Centre for World Environmental History (CWEH) University of Sussex. He is the CWEH artist in residence, and combines his experience as visual artist with environmental activism. Using forensic study of the Vedanta case to understand mining multinational operation, a critical reading of the Anthropocene, and socially engaged contemporary art practice, Serper’s work brings the invisible to a wider audience, to develop methodologies for defending life. Serper works with the CWEH on linking stories of environmental justice struggles, and brings together academic scholars and activists, artists, students and campaign organisations alike, to create a working international network that compares and presents studies on the extractive industries, historical and current, in response to the social disequilibrium they produce. From March to May this year Serper will lead Whose Anthropocene reading group at the CCA in Brighton University.



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