Environmental Group Wins Appeal in South Africa

2 December 2014

The Supreme Court of Appeal Nov. 26 ordered steel producer ArcelorMittal SA to hand over environmental information to Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA), an alliance of five environmental organizations.

The unanimous court rebuked ArcelorMittal for its initial handling of the requests for information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The court in its decision said: “Corporations operating within our borders, whether local or international, must be left in no doubt that in relation to the environment in circumstances such as those under discussion, there is no room for secrecy and that constitutional values will be enforced.”

The court said the steel producer is a “major, if not the major, polluter” whose “crucially important” activities are a matter of public interest,

The dispute concerned a 2011 request for a company document called the Environmental Master Plan, which covered rehabilitation of its Vanderbijlpark site, and a 2012 request for documents relating to the closure and rehabilitation of the company’s Vaal Disposal site — where hazardous waste materials were dumped.

The company said VEJA had not proven that the information was required “for the exercise or protection of any rights” —  the threshold for the law’s application to private companies. Also, the master plan was outdated and inaccurate, the company argued.

VEJA co-ordinator Samson Mokoena was quoted as saying, “Polluting companies like ArcelorMittal SA can no longer try to hide this kind of information.”

For more, read article by Melissa Fourie in Group Up.

A documentary on the effort to obtain the information was produced to build grassroot advocacy around corporate transparency. (English) (Zulu).

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