After more than a decade fighting for compensation, villagers in Chingola have won the right to pursue justice against the mining conglomerate Vedanta in the English courts, after a landmark ruling by the UK Supreme Court.
The case was brought by 1,826 Chingola residents, who say their lives have been devastated by toxic run-off from the nearby Nchanga copper mine, which has contaminated the local water supply and polluted farmland since 2004.
Women and children have been the most affected as they’ve been forced to look for alternative water sources, as the rivers they relied on for their livelihoods and day-to-day household activities have been continually polluted. They have had no choice but to use the same polluted water.
ActionAid Zambia works closely with communities in the Chingola area through its partner, the Catholic Diocese of Ndola. This work has focused on providing platforms and resources to support the villagers to claim their rights and advocate for regulation of corporate conduct through progressive policies and legislation. The work also involves promoting livelihood initiatives such as access to safe water and farmland with local authorities.
Sandwell Sinyangwe, Chairperson of the Shimulala community, said: “We used to think what was happening to our water and environment was normal, until we started experiencing health challenges due to the contaminated water we have been using.
“With the coming of ActionAid Zambia, we have been sensitised on our rights and how to claim them.”
For 13 years, the Chingola community has been fighting compensation of damage, remediation and an end to the continual pollution that has impacted on their lives.
Throughout the case ActionAid has worked with other civil society organisations supporting the villagers to access justice, including Foil Vedanta, and has been in touch with lawyers about the case.
It is thought that the latest judgement handed down by the UK Supreme Court will open the door for other communities in developing countries to bring similar cases in the UK against large multinationals. The ruling agreed with the claimants that they may not have access to justice in Zambia.
ActionAid is part of a new campaign calling for an effective law to require companies and investors to take action to prevent human rights abuses, worker exploitation and environmental harm in their global operations, activities, products, services, investments and supply chains.