COMPANY NEWS IN BRIEF

Anglo turned blind eye to Zambian lead poisoning

South Africa’s High Court was told that Anglo American turned a “blind eye” to lead poisoning in the Zambian town of Kabwe, where it held a stake in a mine for almost 50 years.

The case, a hearing to determine whether the lawsuit can be classified as a class action for as many as 140 000 women and children, began Friday and will run until the end of the month. Anglo denies responsibility and opposes attempts to turn the case into a class action.

“Anglo knew of these dangers, or at best turned a blind eye to them,” Gilbert Marcus, counsel for the complainants, said in his opening remarks. “Children were already falling ill and dying of lead poisoning, and a high number of them were suffering from massive blood lead levels while it exercised control of the mine.”

The group lawsuit, filed in South Africa because Anglo was headquartered in Johannesburg when it held a stake in the Broken Hill mine, follows several similar cases.

In 2018, Anglo and five other companies paid about US$390 million to settle a class action by former gold miners suffering from the respiratory disease silicosis. Gencor — a mining conglomerate that has now closed — in 2003 paid US$60 million to settle claims from asbestos miners.

Anglo, which had a stake in the Broken Hill Mine between 1925 and 1974, said it only held a shareholding in the operator and mining continued after the mine was nationalised.

“An attempt is being made to hold Anglo American South Africa liable for a mine we have never owned nor operated and for pollution and harm that others have caused,” Anglo said in a response to queries from Bloomberg. “We do not believe it is correct to attribute legal responsibility to Anglo American South Africa for the current situation.”-Fin24

Uber ordered to pay French drivers

App-based taxi service Uber has been ordered to pay up to 20 million euros (R371 million) compensation to drivers in the French city of Lyon, their lawyer Stephane Teyssier said on Friday.

The court ruled on the basis of a Court of Cassation decision from January 2020 that Uber drivers should be considered as employees rather than as self-employed.

"Uber was ordered to amend the contracts of 139 drivers at a cost of 17 to 20 million euros," Teyssier told AFP.

"A penalty on that scale is exceptional in France," he added. The US firm, which has some 30,000 drivers using its platform in France, told AFP it intended to appeal.

Drivers in Lyon, France's third largest city, had taken the ride-hailing taxi giant before an employment tribunal to have their work relationship reclassified as an employment contract.

In March 2021, Britain's Supreme Court also classified Uber drivers as employees, rejecting the Silicon Valley company's contention that the drivers should be categorised as self-employed.

An Uber spokesman told AFP on Friday it rejected the French employment tribunal's decision.

"This decision goes against the widely shared view of labour courts and appeal courts that drivers using the (Uber) app are self-employed," he said.

"Drivers have no obligation to work, are not exclusively tied to Uber and are entirely free to organise their work as they choose," he said.-Fin24

Higher priced Twitter subscription won't carry ads

Twitter owner Elon Musk tweeted on Saturday that a higher priced subscription of the social media platform will not carry advertisements.

The billionaire also said that ads are "too frequent on Twitter and too big," and that steps will be taken to address those issues in coming weeks.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter earns nearly 90% of its revenue from selling digital ads and Musk recently attributed a "massive drop in revenue" to rights organisations that have pressured brands to pause their Twitter ads.

Earlier in December, Musk announced that Twitter's Basic blue tick will have half the number of advertisements and that it will offer a higher tier with no advertisements by 2023.-Fin24

Spar's auditors report dodgy loan to regulator

Retailer Spar says its auditors have reported a loan the company entered into to the Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors (IRBA), which oversees the country's auditing profession.

In an update to shareholders laskweek, Spar said its auditors, PwC, found the loan to be a reportable irregularity, meaning IRBA needed to be notified immediately.

Spar then conducted its own investigation, which also concluded that a reportable irregularity had occurred.

Spar did not give much information about the loan, apart from saying that it was entered into five years ago between a "willing lender and borrower through a commercial bank" at a "normal interest rates with fixed terms of repayment".

The issue of "fictitious" loans at Spar was first raised in an internal probe conducted by law firm Harris Nupen Molebatsi (HNM) in 2021.

The HNM report, leaked to News24 last year, found that two loans the grocer had entered into "lacked substance". But HNM was unable to say at the time where the loans constituted accounting irregularities.-Fin24