A complaint by rights groups over a toxic spill at an oil site in Chad linked to the British subsidiary of mining giant Glencore has cleared a hurdle in the UK, Britain's trade ministry said.
The case relates to an accident in September 2018 at the Badila oilfield in southern Chad, when an earth bank supporting a wastewater basin collapsed.
The equivalent of 34 Olympic-sized swimming pools of contaminated water spilled into fields and a local river, killing livestock and fish and causing at least 50 local people to fall sick with skin lesions, vomiting and diarrhoea, the groups say.
They are demanding compensation from Glencore UK, a subsidiary of the Swiss-based mining leviathan that was in business with a local oil firm, PetroChad (Mangara), or PCM.
A unit of Britain's Department for International Trade (DIT) said the complaints "merit further examination".
If a mediated agreement cannot be found, the DIT's NCP unit "will examine further the claims about the company's conduct in order to reach a finding as to whether the company breached" OECD guidelines, it added.
The NCP is the UK's National Contact Point -- an agency set up by OECD governments to intercede in complaints about international business.
It highlighted that for now, "the decision to further examine the claims about Glencore UK's conduct is not a finding against the company."
Anneke Van Woudenberg, executive director of one of the complainant groups, the UK campaign organisation Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), told AFP that the decision was "very important step" towards resolving the complaint.
"We have been trying to communicate with Glencore for more than a year" over taking measures, she said.
The two other groups in the complaint are the Chad-based Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the Association of Young Chadians in the Oil Zone (AJTZP).
Glencore UK, in its submission, had argued that its local partner PCM had "first-hand knowledge of the issues as they arose" and had already made "a considerable effort" to respond to concerns, it said.
Glencore has been exploiting oil in Chad since 2013. The following year, the Chadian state signed a loan with the company.
In a statement to AFP, Glencore said it "acknowledges the decision" by the NCP and said it had been "transparent about the incident."
"Action has been taken," it said.