Chilekwa Mumba, an organizer who runs an orphanage with his wife, won a six-year fight against Vedanta Resources, a mining company that polluted the Kafue River in Zambia. He is one of this year's winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
Vedanta owns Konkola Copper Mines, one of the largest mining operations in the country and the country’s largest employer. After the company took over the mines in 2004, the Kafue River became contaminated with toxic waste. The river was a crucial source of water for local communities and farmers.
Mumba grew up in a village near the river. When he witnessed the pollution, he became determined to hold the company responsible. He sought the help of a U.K.-based law firm, Leigh Day, to take Vedanta to court. Mumba spent years gathering evidence and convincing villagers to join the lawsuit. He took water samples and encouraged witnesses to speak out against the company, even organizing blood tests for those affected by the pollution.
In 2019, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled that Vedanta, as the U.K.-incorporated parent company of KCM, could be held responsible for environmental damage caused by the mine and was liable for damages. The ruling set a precedent that a parent company could be held accountable for the actions of its subsidiary. In 2021, Vedanta reached a settlement with almost 2,000 villagers from four villages near KCM, who had suffered from pollution caused by the mine, providing them with undisclosed compensation.
The lawsuit challenged long-standing corporate impunity and established a precedent for holding U.K. companies responsible for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries. The ruling has already been used to hold Shell Global accountable for its pollution in Nigeria.
Six grassroots environmental activists receive the Goldman Environmental Prize each year. Known as the “Green Nobel Prize,” the Goldman Prize honors environmental activists from the six continental regions. The prize was founded in 1989 by U.S. philanthropists Rhoda and Richard Goldman. OGN will feature more of the prize winners in the coming days.
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