Firms hit by apartheid charge: respondents to a US lawsuit face a huge damages claim.

Author:Howarth, Anita
Position::Business Ethic
 
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More than 30 multinational companies that are alleged to have done business with the former apartheid government of South Africa are being sued for billions of dollars in the US.

The class action is being led by US lawyer Edward Fagan, who helped victims of the Nazi holocaust to obtain $1.25 billion in compensation payments from Swiss banks in 1998. Among the companies named in the lawsuit, BP is accused of supplying the government with oil and gas; Barclays is claimed to have exploited the apartheid system by paying its black employees less than their white colleagues; and NatWest is alleged to have lent money to the regime.

There are concerns on both the New York and London stock exchanges that, if successful, the lawsuit could set a precedent that would hold companies financially accountable for human rights abuses around the world.

The action is being filed under America's "alien tort" legislation, which allows people to sue in the US courts for alleged human rights abuses committed in other countries. Fagan believes the companies are collectively liable for between $50 billion and $100 billion. His team has been strengthened by...

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