Corporate Chutzpah in Brazil!1
On January 17, 2024, Fernanda Giannasi the leader of the ban asbestos campaign in Latin America and the co-founder of the Brazilian Asbestos Victims Group: ABREA uploaded a post to LinkedIn. I read it once and then, dumbfounded, read it again. Having studied it forensically I proceeded to write the article below. When it was finished, I sent it to Fernanda to ensure that I had correctly understood the new developments; she confirmed that I had, saying:
Brazilians are very creative people. This serves us well in our music, architecture, visual and fine arts. Unfortunately, this same sensitivity when corrupted by legal tacticians can be put to nefarious use as we have seen here. ABREA officials, members and supporters are incensed by this abuse of our legal system and the contempt in which Eternit S.A. seems to hold its victims.
The development to which Fernanda refers in the paragraph above is a proposal submitted to the court analyzing the plan for the emergence from judicial recovery of Eternit S.A. formerly Brazils biggest asbestos conglomerate and the owner of a subsidiary still producing asbestos, in contravention of a 2017 ruling by Brazil Supreme Court for compensating victims from its asbestos factories in Osasco (São Paulo State), Rio de Janeiro (State of Rio de Janeiro), Simões Filho (Bahia State), Colombo (Paraná State), Goiânia and Anápolis (Goiás State) not with cash but with company shares. 2
Eternit asbestos factory in Rio de Janeiro, 2012. Photograph taken by author.
Under the companys proposal, future plaintiffs who are awarded in excess of Reais (R$) 250,000 (US$50,750) which is likely to be most of the claimants represented by ABREAs lawyers will be faced with just one realistic option: to receive the R$250,000 in 90 days with the rest of the compensation being paid in Eternit company shares negotiated by the São Paulo Stock Exchange (BOVESPA) within one year. Alternatively, claimants would be forced to wait eight and a half years to receive the cash value of their court-awarded compensation.
In other words, from now on, Eternits asbestos victims most of whom are living on borrowed time will have no reasonable alternative but to become a shareholder in the company whose negligence, malfeasance and corporate social irresponsibility robbed them of their health and, sadly in many cases, is causing them to die prematurely from asbestos-related cancers and diseases.
In the 30+ years I have been involved in the fight for asbestos justice, I thought I had witnessed every type of avoidance, cover-up and denial strategy by asbestos defendants and their lawyers. Documents evaporating, witnesses recanting and proceedings endlessly delayed were tactics familiar to myself and others fighting for the legal rights of victims.
I had not, however, in all that time seen anything so vile as what is being proposed in Brazil. To tie the financial survival of a suffering asbestos claimant and his/her family to the fiscal welfare of the killer company is a concept that is so egregious that it almost takes your breath away. Far from ending the torment of the injured, payment of compensation in Eternit shares adds yet another layer of pressure to the intolerable burden already being borne by these families, few of which have any experience or knowledge of stocks or shares. One can but hope that the authorities in Brazil crack down on this and other sharp practices intended to deny asbestos plaintiffs their legal, civil and human rights.
January 18, 2024
1 Chutzpah is a word taken from the Yiddish language which is widely used in the US to categorize a type of outrageous behaviour such as when a person who has killed both parents claims leniency from the court on the grounds that he or she is an orphan.
2 Setti, R. Eternit propõe indenizar vítima do amianto com
ações da Eternit na Bolsa [Eternit proposes to compensate asbestos victims with
Eternit shares on the stock exchange]. January 16, 2024.