Fixing responsibility

in a historic deal brokered by a British court, building materials firm Cape Plc has agreed to conditionally pay us $30 million to South African miners who blame the company for contracting asbestos-related diseases in South Africa's Northern Cape provinces during the 1970s.

The company will now pay us $15, 846,230 in a lump sum and a further us $ 14,404,705 over 10 years. Cape will also pay the legal fees of the claimants. According to the agreement, the 7,500 claimants will put a stop to the court case while the company takes steps to meet the conditions of the deal. The pact is conditional on the ability of the company to raise the money and the setting up of a trust to administer the cash.

Chris Matlhako, spokesman for the Northern Cape province, said the agreement offered a glimmer of hope to the sick and those who had lost relatives to disease, as well as those who could still fall ill in the future. Lawyer Richard Meeran, acting for the claimants, said the central point of the case was making sure that multinational companies should be held accountable for their actions.

The offending company currently makes fire protection, insulation and building products. It has stopped using asbestos. Earlier, it had wanted the case to be heard in South Africa but it was asked to go before a British court. The case was the largest group action ever in the uk.