Anglo American fights sick miners' legal action

Damages in favour of South African workers suffering from lung disease could hit billions

Nearly 3,000 African gold miners have taken FTSE 100 giant Anglo American to the High Court, claiming that poor health and safety conditions have caused their debilitating lung diseases.

Hausfeld, a legal firm that has battled multinationals over alleged support for the former apartheid regime in South Africa, recently lodged a claim on behalf of 1,056 people who worked in the country's mines. This adds to around 1,600 represented by London-based lawyer Leigh Day, which has already filed High Court claims against Anglo's South African subsidiary.

The miners suffer from silicosis, a scarring of the lungs for which there is no known cure. There are several cases being made against Anglo both in the UK and South Africa related to deep-level gold mining from the 1960s to the 1990s.

AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony and Gold Fields also face claims in South Africa. One estimate states potential damages against all the companies could total $100bn (£63bn) to 280,000 people – nearly $360,000 per miner.

The latest court filing comes as Anglo is required to disclose information that will effectively decide the jurisdiction of the cases. Anglo argues that any hearings should take place in South Africa, but Leigh Day is examining whether a corporate restructuring in 2009 means that most operational direction now comes from the UK head office.

Separately, tensions are building in South Africa after 34 striking workers were shot dead by police at a mine owned by platinum group Lonmin.

Hausfeld's head of European human rights and environmental law, Ingrid Gubbay, said: "What we're trying to do with this case is ensure that there is accountability from multinationals."

An Anglo spokeswoman said that the company owned only minority stakes in the firms that employed the miners, adding: "Anglo American does not believe that it is in any way liable for the silicosis claims brought by former gold workers and is defending the actions."

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