Brazilian Asbestos Industry vs. Fernanda Giannasi 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Brazilian asbestos stakeholders don't welcome criticism and don't like constraints. Even when states like São Paulo have taken unilateral action and banned asbestos, factories producing asbestos-cement and outlets distributing asbestos-containing friction materials were led to believe that the restrictions did not apply to them by an association representing the interests of the asbestos sector. And yet, the São Paulo law very much applied to them and to others who were engaged in the manufacture, sale, use and distribution of this illegal substance. It is only when the law was brought into play, in many cases by a labor inspector, that businesses were forced to comply. In São Paulo State a federal employee who is often involved in the prosecution of parties in cases like these is engineer and veteran civil servant Fernanda Giannasi.

As you would suspect, Labor Inspector Ms. Giannasi is not much loved by asbestos vested interests. As a person representing the best interests of workers no doubt she would expect to encounter a degree of hostility from negligent employers and animosity from industry lobbyists whose bottom line is compromised by the costs of health and safety restrictions. The hornet's nest Ms. Giannasi's activities have stirred up however transcend the legitimate reaction of honest businessmen, company executives and corporate investors. During the last 25 years, she has been sued in criminal and civil courts, confronted physical assailants and received death threats – all for just doing her job.

An article published online on April 14, 2011 by Jim Morris and Marcelo Soares details the current backlash being experienced by Ms. Giannasi.1 At the moment she is facing legal actions over her activities:

  • on March 15,2011 an asbestos mining company (SAMA) sought a court order to prevent Ms. Giannasi from inspecting its operations because of her “affiliation with a victims' advocacy group;”
  • Cortes Transportation which ships asbestos from the São Paulo port of Santes has filed a criminal complaint alleging an abuse of power by Ms. Giannasi; the Labor Inspector has previously impounded asbestos shipments bound for Asia.

In the 19th century, a British physician John Snow identified a contaminated water pump and well as the source of a cholera outbreak in central London. Having established the source of the problem and convinced the relevant authorities – in this case the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company – to shut it down, he ended the epidemic. In a similar vein, Ms. Giannasi identified a source of widespread occupational disease whilst working in Brazil's asbestos heartland – an industrial town called Osasco, in Greater São Paulo. Like Snow, she relied on information from local people to quantify the problem and, like the British physician, she collected statistics which she took to the authorities. There is much evidence to suggest that many functionaries in the Labor Inspectorate and many politicians did not want to hear her message and there have been instances where her ability to carry out her duties have been compromised by official sanctions. Her crime? Doing her job. It seems that in Brazil neither the government nor the private sector wants to hear the unpalatable truths about the hazards of asbestos.

April 15, 2011


1 Morris J, Soares M. Activist asbestos inspector faces threats, industry backlash. April 14, 2011.



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