PRESS STATEMENT | Class action suit against Anglo American SA on lead poisoning affecting women and children in Zambia

Date: 10/11/2022

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) will be in the Johannesburg High Court on Thursday, 10 November 2022, on behalf of Human Rights Watch in an application to be admitted as a friend of the court in a class action lawsuit against Anglo American South Africa Limited (Anglo-American) over alleged health problems caused by lead mines in central Zambia. The matter commenced in 2020, with the upcoming hearing set to determine which international organisations may participate in the matter if accepted by the court.

The legal challenge, filed in South Africa by Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys as well British solicitors Leigh Day, allege that mining operations carried out in Kabwe, north of the Zambian capital Lusaka, by multinational mining company Anglo-American, were in such close proximity to residents that they caused significant soil contamination and poisoned the population, especially young children. They further contend that in villages in and around Kabwe, both children and adults living in the shadow of the old lead mine have experienced heightened health issues due to the high levels of lead in the area’s topsoil and water supplies. The suit, filed against Anglo America’s South African subsidiary, represents 180 000 women and children in Kabwe with 13 plaintiffs representing the case.

Human Rights Watch seeks to be admitted as an organisation with an interest in assisting the court in its determination of whether it is in the interests of justice to certify the proposed class action. In 2019, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled “‘We have to be worried’ – the impact of lead contamination on children’s rights in Kabwe, Zambia” (the Human Rights Watch report). Anglo-American relies on this report to sustain its argument that it is not responsible for the harms caused to the applicants. Anglo-American further relies on submissions made by Human Rights Watch to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on the impact of lead pollution on children’s rights. Human Rights Watch seeks to clarify the context and purpose of the report and the CRC submissions and in no way excuse the respondent for liability for the violations identified in that report. Human Rights Watch therefore has an interest in demonstrating that Anglo-American’s reliance on its research is misplaced.

Jessica Lawrence, senior attorney in the LHR Environmental Rights Programme highlights that, “Human Rights Watch’s application to be admitted as an amicus curiae is important in that Human Rights Watch has a unique repository of knowledge about both the facts of the human rights violations at Kabwe, and about the principles of corporate accountability under international human rights law and standards. Human Rights Watch is well-positioned to provide an in-depth analysis of the principle of due diligence as understood in international human rights standards and applied in this matter.”

For further information, please contact:

Jessica Lawrence, Senior Attorney, LHR Environmental Rights Programme


Tel: 011 339 1960

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