Mercury poisoning victims win pounds 1.3m in landmark case
Four of the black workers have died and a number of the others are suffering severe brain and other neurological damage.
The workers had accused Thor Chemicals Holdings, of Margate, in Kent, of adopting working practices in South Africa which would not have been allowed in Britain.
Yesterday's landmark settlement, which followed the filing of claims for damages in the High Court in London, has serious implications for British businesses with operations in developing countries.
The settlement was announ-ced after a report in The Independent last month highlighted the case. Similar claims are being pursued against other Brit-ish companies owning uranium mines and asbestos plants in southern Africa.
One of the Thor workers, Albert Dlamini, 30, received pounds 100,000 for injuries which have left him walking on crutches and unable to speak properly. He said: "Working for Thor has destroyed my life. I feel very bitter that this British company has come to my country and adopted working practices that would never have been accepted in its own country."
The workers first realised something was seriously wrong when three men were taken into hospital in 1992, suffering from severe mercury poisoning.
Peter Cele, 21, died seven months later. Englebert Ngcobo, 55, was in hospital for three years before he slipped into a coma and died.
They had all worked at Thor's mercury plant at Cato Ridge in Natal. The operation had been set up by the English parent company using technology and systems of operation which had been developed in Britain.
Thor had operated a mercury plant at Margate which, during the 1980s, was repeatedly criticised by the Health and Safety Executive for bad working practices and the over-exposure of British workers to mercury.
Under pressure from the HSE, Thor closed down its mercury operations in Britain in 1987 and expanded them in South Africa, where the plant relied on Zulu-speaking casual, untrained and unskilled labour.
In bringing their claim, which was also made against the Thor chairman Desmond Cowley, the workers enlisted the support of experts in occupational medicine and toxicology.
In their evidence, the workers testified that rather than trying to reduce mercury levels in the environment, the company adopted a policy of trying to control mercury exposure by replacing workers who had high levels of mercury with new casual employees. Others, they said, were sent to work in the garden until their mercury levels dropped.
Thor had fought to prevent the workers' claims being heard in a British court, even appealing to the House of Lords. But the case had been set for a three-month trial in October.
No one at Thor was available for comment yesterday.
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...