Chilekwa Mumba, 2023 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner

The 2023 Goldman Prize goes to this man:

Alarmed by the pollution produced by the Konkola Copper Mines operation in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia, Chilekwa Mumba organized a lawsuit to hold the mine’s parent company, Vedanta Resources, responsible. Chilekwa’s victory in the UK Supreme Court set a legal precedent—it was the first time an English court ruled that a British company could be held liable for the environmental damage caused by subsidiary-run operations in another country. This precedent has since been applied to hold Shell Global—one of the world’s 10 largest corporations by revenue—liable for its pollution in Nigeria.

Our thanks to Jocelyn C. Zuckerman for this conversation with him:

The Nchanga copper mine, operated by Konkola Copper Mines, in Chingola, Zambia. WALDO SWIEGERS / BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

This Zambian Took on a U.K. Mining Giant on Pollution and Won

Chilekwa Mumba led a court battle to hold a U.K.-based company responsible for the gross pollution from a copper mine it owns in Zambia. In an interview, he talks about how he and local villagers faced arrest to overcome long odds and finally win a landmark legal victory.

The southern African nation of Zambia is home to a wealth of minerals — in particular, lots of the copper and cobalt that the world will require to power a green economy. Among its largest operations is the Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), located in the country’s Copperbelt Province. In 2004, U.K.-based Vedanta Resources acquired the controlling stake in KCM, whose operations span 11 square miles along the Kafue River. Soon after, residents noticed that the Kafue was emitting foul odors. Fish began dying. Crops began to wither. Livestock fell ill. And villagers came down with mysterious headaches, nose bleeds, rashes, and burns.

Chilekwa Mumba, who had grown up in the region but since moved to the Zambian capital, Lusaka, learned of the problem and vowed to do something about it. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about how he spent the next several years facilitating meetings between the communities and British lawyers, gathering water samples, and convincing former mine workers to provide evidence for a lawsuit that made its way through the British court system. Finally, in 2019, its Supreme Court found that KCM’s parent company could be held accountable in the U.K. for environmental damage from the mine’s operations.

Not only had Mumba, 38, who was awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize two weeks ago, helped win significant financial compensation for the 2,000 villagers involved, but his case set a legal precedent that British companies can be held accountable for the environmental fallout of their operations overseas. In 2021, a group of Niger Delta residents sued Shell Global in the U.K. for years of oil spills that had contaminated their land and water, after the Supreme Court rejected Shell’s arguments that its Nigerian subsidiary held liability.

“It was just me trying to do the right thing,” Mumba says of his efforts. “The ripple effect has been amazing.”…

Read the whole interview here.

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