New Caledonia's labour court has found that the SLN nickel company was responsible for the asbestos-related illnesses of five of its former employees.
The court found that the lack of protection by SLN was inexcusable at the mine and at its plant in Noumea, where the five worked.
One of the complainants has since died while the four others are between 68 and 81 years old, receiving compensation from a public fund which SLN is now expected to reimburse.
The SLN lawyer says given a labour force of about 2,000, five cases are not indicative of any elevated risk nor any negligence on SLN's part.
The asbestos sufferers' organisation says the landmark ruling will see more cases to be followed up.