Multinational Campaign Denounces “Sportswashing”  

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



On Friday, September 8, 2023, French asbestos victims’ groups endorsed action taken by their British counterparts demonstrating outside the Stade de France (France Stadium) in Paris to denounce the “sportswashing” of asbestos crimes by a multinational corporation headquartered in Montpelier, France.1 Solidarity with the protest was expressed in a press release issued the same day by asbestos victims’ groups and campaigners in Latin America, Asia, Europe and Oceania, with Sugio Furuya, Coordinator of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network, saying:

“Asbestos victims around the world have paid a high price for the profits made by asbestos companies. It is only right that some of the accumulated wealth be used for the benefit of those whose lives have been irreparably damaged by the immoral activities of Cape and others who prioritized corporate profits over human life.”2

Altrad, the company in question, rejected requests in 2022 & 2023 from the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum UK (the Forum) for £10 million for medical research, choosing instead to sponsor the French and New Zealand rugby teams, both of which took part in the opening match of the Rugby World Cup on September 8.3 Altrad is the current owner of the Cape Asbestos Company Ltd. (Cape), formerly one of the UK’s biggest asbestos conglomerates and a global player in the asbestos sector with mines and factories in South Africa and production facilities in Italy and throughout the UK.

In a Cape document entitled: A Distinguished Past and a Confident Future. A Short History of Cape PLC: 1893-1993 obtained from the Strathclyde University archives last month, decades of the company’s growth were summarized with no mention of the human cost of its commercial exploitation of asbestos, the substance at the heart of Cape’s activities.4 Given the harm done to the company’s employees, customers and members of the public, the company’s assertion on the title page of this document that “technology and industry hold the key to the continued improvement of mankind’s wellbeing – now and into the future” was both fallacious and provocative.

There is no question that the activities of Cape, along with those of Turner & Newall Ltd. (T&N), were responsible for creating a UK cancer time bomb. Decades after asbestos use was banned, exposure to toxic products made by Cape and T&N continue to prolong the decades-long human catastrophe which make the UK the world’s top asbestos hotspot.5


Estimated crude incidence rates for mesothelioma in 2020 (Enlarge map). In the IARC/Globocan online source of this map6 the rates for individual countries are available interactively; the UK has the highest rate.

As one of the UK’s oldest and largest asbestos conglomerates, Cape has a moral obligation to make restitution for the deadly consequences of its business decisions.7 The French and New Zealand rugby teams should be ashamed of accepting money that could be used for life-saving research.

September 12, 2023


1 Earlier this summer, the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum mounted protests at the former site of the asbestos factory in Barking, London opened in 1913 by the Cape Asbestos Co. Ltd. (Cape); in front of Parliament; and in Warrington, at the UK headquarters of Altrad, the multinational corporation which now owns Cape and its subsidiaries.

2 Joint Press Release. Victims Denounce “Sportswashing,” Demanding Corporate Accountability. September 8, 2023.

3 Early Day Motion 93: Cape Holdings and asbestos research. May 23, 2022.

4 One of the primary objectives of the Cape Asbestos Co. Ltd., which was founded in 1893 in London, was to “acquire and exploit deposits of blue asbestos which had been found near Prieska… South Africa and to acquire a factory in Italy to produce heat resisting textile products incorporating the blue asbestos mined by the company in South Africa.”
Cape. A Short History of Cape PLC: 1893-1993.

5 According to data collected by IARC, in 2020 the UK had the world’s worst crude incidence rate (4.9), highest age-standardized incidence rate (1.9) and highest cumulative risk rate (0.24) for mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposure.

6 IARC. Estimated crude incidence rates in 2020, mesothelioma, both sexes, all ages. [Interactive map] (Accessed September 11, 2023).

7 Kazan-Allen, L. Australia Did It, So Did Japan, Belgium and Brazil, Can Britain Do It Too? July 27, 2023.



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