London law firm Leigh Day & Co has begun proceedings in the London High Court against Anglo American South Africa Ltd (AASA); a Johannesburg-registered wholly owned subsidiary of London based Anglo American PLC, on behalf of potentially thousands of ex-gold miners.
The miners allege they are suffering from silicosis and silico-tuberculosis from exposure to dangerous levels of dust on the company’s South African gold mines.
Anglo American plc is a global mining company headquartered in London. It is a major producer of diamonds, copper, nickel, iron ore and metallurgical and thermal coal and the world’s largest producer of platinum, with around 40% of world output. It has operations in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, North America and South America. Anglo American has its primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.
AASA, now wholly owned by Anglo American plc, was the head office parent company until 1998 and was the largest gold miner in South Africa for most of the 20th Century. During apartheid, it recruited hundreds of thousands of labourers from the former “bantustans” (home lands), such as Transkei (now in the Eastern Cape) and neighbouring states including Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi.
Legal proceedings have been issued in the UK High Court by London law firm Leigh Day & Co against AASA. These proceedings name over 450 individual claimants, underground Black miners who are alleged to have contracted silicosis or silico-tuberculosis as a result of excessive dust levels on AASA mines up to 1998.
The proceedings also include a representative claim on behalf of un-named claimants in this class. This mass tort action is potentially worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
This case has been brought in the UK Courts as AASA on the basis of AASA’s present control and management by UK headquartered Anglo American PLC. (Under European law English courts have jurisdiction over a company, which has its central administration in England).
Leigh Day & Co argues that bringing this case in the UK is in the victims’ interests as English courts have well-developed case management procedures and the claimants will be entitled to UK damages.
According to the Claimants’ solicitor, Richard Meeran, Partner at Leigh Day & Co: “There are striking similarities between this silicosis public health disaster and the asbestos scandal in which 7,500 South African asbestos miners, for whom he acted a decade ago, who successfully sued UK multinational, Cape PLC.
“First, the similarity in the nature and causes of these diseases and the measures required to prevent them, namely dust control, secondly industry knowledge of the hazard having existed for more than 100 years and thirdly, what we allege is the disregard of the industry, in its drive for profit, for miners’ health”.
Given the suffering and poverty of the victims and the length of time the industry has failed to address the issue of compensation for miners, Leigh Day & Co hope a settlement scheme would be established at an early stage.