Justice for Sale? 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



For over thirty years, the citizens of Casale Monferrato, Italy have been struggling with a deadly contamination which has blighted their lives and their town. For decades, the manufacturing operations of the Eternit factory spewed carcinogenic asbestos fibers into the lungs of the workers, their relatives and members of the public; the town's air, water and soil were poisoned by the company's negligence. To obtain justice for the thousands who have died, asbestos victims, trade unions and labor federations have worked closely with town officials and prosecutors to progress legal actions against the guilty parties. In 2009, Italian prosecutors began legal proceedings against former Eternit executives charged with involvement in the asbestos scandal. The trial finished in November 2011 and the court's verdict is expected on February 13, 2012.

Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, one of those charged for his part in the Eternit catastrophe, is now negotiating a deal with the town of Casale Monferrato. It is believed that his lawyers have offered the Mayor and the town council up to 20 million euros to settle their claim. The politicians are, so one source says, “refusing to show victims and unions the draft of the (proposed) agreement.” Indeed, the asbestos victims association, AFeVA, only found out about the negotiations after an article was published in the newspaper. In return for this money, it is believed that the town is being asked to withdraw “from this and any future trials (against Eternit) that it might be involved in.” These were the terms agreed with the town council of Cavagnolo earlier this year. At that time, the Mayor of Casale Monferrato said: “It is clear that a proposal such as that could never be even considered by a city like Casale.”

The asbestos victims, their family members, their friends and supporters call for justice. They have fought for more than three decades to achieve an acknowledgement of the harm done to their loved ones. During this time, they forged links with other civil society groups and together they progressed their campaign with the Italian prosecutors. The possibility of any deal with Stephan Schmidheiny is an anathema.

IBAS calls on the Mayor and town officials to terminate all negotiations with Schmidheiny and/or his legal representatives. This case must go on. From their graves, the victims cry out for justice. The town of Casale Monferrato, where many of them lived and died, has a moral obligation to see this case through.

December 15, 2011



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