UN experts intervening in Zambia lead pollution case — Global Issues

The lawsuit against mining giant Anglo American was brought on behalf of women and children in Zambia’s central Kabwe district, who are alleged victims of lead poisoning.

The UN experts – whose mandates cover issues such as toxic pollution and human rights, business and human rights, and discrimination against women and girls – had tried to intervene in the matter.

Duty of care

The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg will hear arguments this week about the merits of the victims’ compensation claims.

The applicants allege that Anglo American South Africa, through its previous involvement in the activities of the local lead mine in Kabwe, assumed a duty of care towards the residents, in particular protection against exposure to lead.

“Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children”, said the UN experts.

‘far-reaching’ health effects

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified it as one of 10 chemicals that pose a major public health problem requiring action by countries to protect the health of workers, children and women of childbearing age.

“According to the WHO, yes no exposure level to lead known to have no harmful effects,” they added.

“Young children can suffer profound and lasting adverse health consequences and disabilities, including in the development of the brain and nervous system. Exposure of pregnant women to lead can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth and low birth weight.”

Contrary to commitment

The Court will consider arguments based on international human rights law, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the experts said.

The guidelines require companies to respect human rights while addressing adverse human rights impacts associated with the business activities in which they are involved.

They also emphasize the importance of access to legal remedies in case of violations.

The experts argued that Anglo American acted against its professed commitments to corporate human rights when it opposed the Court, even considering this class action.

“Anglo-American South Africa has voluntarily committed to following the guiding principles, including a commitment to support access to justice where human rights violations have occurred and to cooperate in processes designed to determine whether of blame for those consequences,” they said. .

The 13 experts have been appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and act in their individual capacity.

They are not UN personnel and receive no salary for their work.

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