6: Coded Copper, Toxic Water. Multinational Corporations, Environmental Degradation and Tort Law

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Diverse communities of the ‘Global South’ contend with environmental degradation. As they do so they confront the world’s largest multinational corporations (MNCs). This chapter focuses on the 2019 English case, Lungowe v Vedanta, in which Zambian residents sued the then London-headquartered mining group, Vedanta Resources. The chapter’s task is to identify the role of tort law in the conflict between MNCs and those exposed to environmental degradation. It will do so by contrasting two types of legal work. Katharina Pistor’s The Code of Capital presents corporate lawyers ‘coding’ assets – such as the copper mined in Zambia – to deliberately challenge tort law’s capacity to deter or to compensate. Lungowe, by contrast, shows tort law as a site of distributional conflict animated by the work of strategic litigation and interpretation by public interest lawyers and sympathetic judges.

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