Human rights organisations join class action affecting 100,000 women
- Lee-Anne Bruce
Amnesty International and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre have been joined to a class action against Anglo American
CALS represents Amnesty International and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre as friends of the court in a class action lawsuit before the High Court in Johannesburg. The class action was brought on behalf of women and children from Kabwe in Zambia who argue that they have suffered lead exposure from a mine operated for decades by Anglo American.
In October 2020, an application to certify a class action lawsuit against Anglo American South Africa was launched in the Johannesburg High Court. The litigation has been brought on behalf of as many as 100,000 women and children from Kabwe in Zambia who make the case that they have been exposed to lead poisoning by a nearby mining operation. The Kabwe lead mine – once known as ‘Broken Hill’ – was allegedly operated by Anglo American South Africa between 1925 and 1974.
Medical studies have shown children from Kabwe have a high level of lead in their blood, up to ten times the amount considered safe. Women and children are at a particular risk from lead toxicity, which is known to cause permanent damage to internal organs and increase health risks during pregnancy. Mine managers and medical officers at Anglo American are said to have recognised as early as 1949 that conditions at the mine would inevitably result in lead poisoning. Thirteen plaintiffs have therefore approached the High Court in order to begin the process for instituting a class action on behalf of the women and children of Kabwe.
The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) represents Amnesty International and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), two established organisations advocating extensively for the defence and protection of human rights by both state and corporate actors internationally. We believe that the class action on behalf of the women and children of Kabwe raises important issues around corporate accountability for human rights violations and their gendered impacts.
In May this year, CALS applied on behalf of Amnesty International and SALC to intervene in the litigation as friends of the court. We filed written submissions focusing on the responsibility of corporations to address their legacies of environmental harm, the duty of states to ensure victims of human rights abuses have access to effective remedies and the challenges faced by victims of corporate harm in accessing these remedies. On 11 August, during Women’s Month, we received a court order confirming that our client partners had been admitted as friends of the court in the matter.
“We are pleased the Court has admitted our clients as friends of the court in this historic case dealing with corporate human rights abuses against women and children,” says Ariella Scher, head of Business and Human Rights at CALS. “We hope our submissions will assist the Court in determining this important matter which affirms our organisation’s intersectional approach to cases which deal with violations involving gender, class and race.”
For inquiries, please contact:
From the Centre for Applied Legal Studies:
- Ariella Scher (Head: Business and Human Rights) at Ariella.Scher@wits.ac.za
- Anesu Dera (Attorney: Business and Human Rights) at Anesu.Dera@wits.ac.za
From Amnesty International:
- Robert Shivambu (Media Manager for Southern Africa) at Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org
From the Southern Africa Litigation Centre:
- Melusi Simelane (Civic and Political Rights Programme Manager) at MelusiS@salc.org.za