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The toxic truth is out

08 September 2015 - 02:13 By Kimon de Greef

Prominent companies are failing to comply with environmental laws, according to a non-profit environmental rights organisation. Lonmin, Anglo American, Sappi, African Rainbow Minerals and Sasol are among the 20 JSE-listed entities whose environmental compliance and disclosure records were assessed by the Centre for Environmental Rights, an environmental rights law clinic in Cape Town.The report reveals the extent to which big industry evades environmental responsibility in South Africa. It is based on publicly available information.Between 2008 and last year, the authorities found that many of these 20 companies had breached their permit conditions or regularly violated environmental laws. Typical violations included toxic spills, unauthorised disposal of hazardous waste, air pollution, and contamination of soil and water."Industry pays lip service to sound environmental management but when it comes to implementation it is clear that many big companies don't give serious consideration to their non-compliance with environmental laws," said Tracey Davies, head of the Centre for Environmental Rights' corporate accountability and transparency programme."Many of these companies lay claim to good governance and full compliance with environmental laws in their shareholder reports."All 20 companies have repeatedly appeared on the JSE's Socially Responsible Investment Index, which promotes "sustainable and transparent business practices". Anglo American, Amplats, Lonmin and Illovo were among the nine best performers on the index last year.Corli le Roux, head of sustainability at the JSE, said she was studying the centre's report and would consider holding discussions with the companies it implicated."We encourage companies to be transparent about their environmental, social and governance performance."The index, she said, was a credible "measure of listed companies".Jan Glazewski, director of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Law, at the University of Cape Town, said: "For more than a decade we've had very good environmental laws on paper but weak enforcement. We're only now starting to see robust prosecutions."The Environmental Management Inspectorate, known as the Green Scorpions, is responsible for overseeing compliance with environmental legislation but has no legal mandate to act in the mining sector or in industries in which water-use laws apply.Eleven of the 20 companies cited in the centre's report are mining companies...

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