The UK Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favour of thousands of Zambian villagers seeking the right to sue a subsidiary of UK-headquartered Indian mining giant Vedanta in the UK courts.
While the Anil Agarwal owned mining group had argued that the case should be heard in Zambia, 1,826 villagers were fighting for the right to seek compensation in British courts for several years.
The ruling sets a strong legal precedent which will allow people with claims against subsidiaries of British multinationals to sue the parent company in the UK, said Foil Vedanta, a grassroots campaign group working for people's movements against Vedanta.
The judgment by Chief Justice Lady Hale and four further judges noted that the claimants do have a bona fide claim against Vedanta and the company does owe a duty of care to the claimants, especially in view of the existence of company-wide policies on environment and health and safety.
Vedanta said in a statement: "The judgment of the UK Supreme Court is a procedural one and relates only to the jurisdiction of the English court to hear these claims. It is not a judgment on the merits of the claims.
"Vedanta and KCM will defend themselves against any such claims at the appropriate time."
The claimants, represented by UK law firm Leigh Day, are from farming and fishing communities downstream of KCM's mines and plants. They claim to have suffered continual pollution since Vedanta Resources bought KCM in 2004, including a major incident in 2006 which turned the River Kafue bright blue with copper sulphate and acid, and poisoned water sources for 40,000 people.
Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day, said: "I hope this judgment will send a strong message to other large multinationals that their CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] policies should not just be seen as a polish for their reputation but as important commitments that they must put into action."
The ruling could impact other ongoing cases by setting a jurisdictional precedent for compensation claims against parent companies.