The Day of Reckoning: Eternit on Trial
By some quirk of fate or extremely clever corporate maneuvering, the Swiss and Belgian Eternit companies have escaped their asbestos pasts largely unscathed. Other equally negligent corporations have been forced into bankruptcy by liabilities for the injuries and deaths caused by their asbestos products and processes. Eternit, a multinational manufacturing conglomerate with asbestos tentacles spread as far afield as South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia, Pakistan, Indonesia, China, Bolivia, Columbia, Panama and Saudi Arabia, is still in business.
A class action launched in Italy last year against former executives may mark the turning point in Eternit's fortunes. In December 2009, court hearings began in the case initiated by Turin Prosecutor Dr. Guariniello against Stefan Schmidheiny and Jean-Louis Chislain de Cartier De Marchienne who respectively worked for the Swiss and Belgian Eternit companies.1 They are facing criminal charges relating to the asbestos-related deaths of 1,500+ Italians who were occupationally or environmentally exposed to Eternit asbestos.
|Site of Eternit's Former Asbestos-Cement Factory in Casale Monferrato, Italy.|
The progress of the Italian case is frustratingly slow as the extensive hearings are scheduled for only five hours a week (on Mondays) and occasionally, such as on March 15, the court proceedings are adjourned.2
As significant as is this ground-breaking lawsuit is the formation of an alliance of European groups and professionals which has coalesced to progress the claimants' cause. A series of meetings which took place in Turin from March 14-16, 2010 brought together asbestos victims' representatives, ban asbestos activists, legal practitioners and other experts from Europe, Latin America and Asia to:
In roundtable discussions and during the press conference on March 15 and at the one-day conference on March 16,3 the duplicitous behavior of Eternit companies in Italy, Peru, France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and India was highlighted. The consensus was clear: this trial must be won!
|Annie Thebaud-Mony opening March 16, 2010 Conference.|
It was significant that many authors who have written about Eternit's deplorable behavior in Europe attended the conference including:
The presence of journalists and reporters from Italy, France, Belgium and Switzerland insured that media coverage of this event was widespread.
|Sanjiv Pandita (left), of the Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Center, and Eric Jonckheere, of the Belgian Victims' Group, being interviewed by Belgian reporter.|
Reflecting on the importance of the events in Turin, Organizer Annie Thébaud-Mony from Ban Asbestos France and the International Ban Asbestos Network expressed the feelings of many delegates when she said:
''Eternit developed a global strategy to delay the revelations of the harmful effects of asbestos. It continued this practice and even built new factories around the world to produce, use and sell asbestos long after the use of asbestos had been banned in Europe.
Laurie Kazan-Allen who participated in these events on behalf of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat concurred:
People in Turin and the surrounding area know only too well the consequences of working for Eternit. Thousands of people in Casale Monferrato and other Italian towns have died from their occupational and environmental exposures to Eternit asbestos. Considering that hazardous exposures experienced in Italy were replicated elsewhere, there must be hundreds of thousands of people who have died from their exposures to this company's asbestos products. The time has come for Eternit to be brought to account.
The trial continues.4
March 22, 2010
1 Eternit on Trial! January 28, 2010.
2 The proceedings on March 15, 2010 were cancelled while the judge considered jurisdictional issues such as a defendant's application to relocate the trial from Turin to Genoa. The usual schedule is for a weekly hearing on Mondays from 9 a.m. 2 p.m.
3 Conference agenda