London Asbestos Meetings, April 2002
Global asbestos issues topped the agendas of several events held in London in April 2002. Asbestos victims, their representatives, asbestos specialists, politicians, civil servants, academics, scientists and engineers from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, England, France, Holland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Scotland, South Africa, the US and Brazil discussed a wide range of asbestos-related subjects at an academic seminar, a Westminster briefing session, a victims’ roundtable, photographic exhibitions and receptions throughout a hectic but rewarding three days. Laurie Kazan-Allen, Co-ordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), the NGO which planned these events, said: "As impressed as I was by all the formal presentations, I was even more delighted to witness the enthusiastic interaction amongst delegates which continued long after the official sessions had ended. It is really in these moments that the germs of new initiatives and strategies are born. I am confident that the dialogue begun in London will benefit asbestos victims at home and abroad."
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Seminar
The first event was a seminar held at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on April 16. The Manson Lecture Theatre was the venue for the seminar entitled: Asbestos: International Update on a Dying Industry and a Health Time Bomb which was jointly organized and chaired by Carolyn Stephens of the LSHTM and Laurie Kazan-Allen of IBAS.
Epidemiologist Paul Swuste from Delft University, Holland told delegates that despite two national schemes to compensate asbestos victims, prompt and adequate compensation is still being denied to some Dutch claimants. To speed up the compensation process, a new project has been initiated to identify individuals who were occupationally exposed to asbestos between 1950-1985. Attempts are being made to incorporate qualitative detail into the new database.
|Jock McCulloch speaking at the LSHTM Seminar.|
Historian Jock McCulloch explained why, as an Australian, he decided to write a book about asbestos mining in South Africa. Ninety-seven per cent of the world’s crodicolite (blue asbestos) was mined in Australia or South Africa. Having written about Wittenoom, Australia's infamous crocidolite mine, in his book: Asbestos: It’s Human Cost, Jock’s attention was drawn to South Africa. Much of the production of crocidolite in South Africa was carried out by family units. While the menfolk worked in the mines, their wives used heavy, flat hammers to separate the raw fibre from extraneous rocky material. The children played among the debris or assisted their mothers by separating the shorter and longer fibres. The low wages earned working as a production unit enabled families to stay together; failing that, men were forced to work far from home. On the cover of Jock’s book is a picture taken, he believes, in the 1960s which shows a young South African woman cobbing crocidolite with a baby strapped to her chest. Women and children carried on working in these conditions until the 1980s. The levels of exposure experienced in these circumstances would have been extremely high. The results are predictable: "A 2001 study by Professor Tony Davies from the NCOH in Johannesburg of former women mine workers found that over 95% of them now suffer from asbestosis". According to Jock, corporate documents from the files of Cape Asbestos Co. Ltd. show that although the health risks of asbestos were being discussed at board level in 1963, knowledge about the risks was "hermetically sealed." The workforce, foremen and middle management remained uninformed; nothing was done to improve working conditions.
Solicitor Richard Meeran, from Leigh, Day & Co., discussed the case brought in the UK by Cape’s South African victims. He described the huge, and ultimately unsuccessful, battle mounted by the defendants to prevent the cases being heard in the UK. Cape’s solicitors demanded that each of the 7500 cases be fought separately and insisted on a re-examination of the medical evidence in each case. A fresh analysis of the first 650 cases found that asbestos-related diseases were present in 85% of the claimants. Cape was still not satisfied and insisted that more cases be re-examined. Once again 85% of the cases were confirmed. Richard pointed out that the entrenched and defensive attitude of Cape only changed when there was a shake-up in corporate ownership. The new CEO approached the case with a fresh perspective and opened a dialogue with the claimants’ lawyers which facilitated the negotiations. In December 2001, a court approved plans for a £21 million settlement.
|John Battle speaking at the LSHTM Seminar.|
John Battle, MP for Leeds West discussed the asbestos legacy in Armley, Leeds. He described a typical Northern community of 800 homes compressed into a small area at the centre of which was an asbestos textile factory. The Canal Street premises were owned by J. W. Roberts Co. Ltd. (JWR); JWR was owned by Turner & Newall Ltd. At first nobody realized why so many local people were getting ill. Then, John saw the local coroner who told him that there had been four cases of mesothelioma, a supposedly "rare" cancer, in Armley. Coroner Gill encouraged John to look into this matter. He has been doing so ever since. During his, often painstaking, research, he has had to fight the company for every piece of information. He asked questions in Parliament about neighbourhood exposure to asbestos. John said that it was disgraceful that Turner & Newall had not paid a penny to decontaminate Armley; all the clean-up costs were borne by the local Council. According to the principle of the polluter pays, the Government should have forced Turner and Newall to clean up the asbestos contamination. This never happened. In October 2001, Turner & Newall, now owned by an American company, filed for administration. The result is that all legal cases against the company are frozen. John is determined that the company should not escape responsibility for the damage it has done.
|Carolyn Stephens speaking at the LSHTM Seminar.|
Epidemiologist Carolyn Stephens discussed the implications of global moves to ban asbestos and compensate victims, stressing the need for concerted, positive action by victims to prevent the transference of risk and the creation of "pockets of powerlessness."
|John Gilbert speaking at the LSHTM Seminar.|
Kazakhstan is the 7th largest producer of chrysotile (white asbestos). An increase in demand for asbestos-containing building products to rebuild Afghanistan has led to increased local production according to John Gilbert, a UK citizen who has lived and worked in Kazakhstan for several years. There are no laws or controls on the production, use or sale of asbestos in Kazakhstan; neither is there any medical or public awareness of the hazards. There is no scheme to monitor or treat asbestos-related disease.
|Fernanda Giannasi speaking at the LSHTM Seminar.|
Brazilian engineer Fernanda Giannasi proposed: A New Way Forward for the Regulation of the Global Asbestos Market. Having recently collaborated with colleagues in Brazil, Argentina, the UK and the US to identify, locate and close-down illegal production and use of asbestos gaskets, she suggested the creation of a World Citizen’s Organization which would give a voice to citizens’ and workers’ needs much as the World Trade Organization represents the interests of multinational businesses.
Barry Castleman, just back from a series of meetings in New Delhi, discussed the enormous strides that have been made in India over the last twelve months. There has been a sea-change in the climate of public debate about the need to ban asbestos in India which is illustrated by the formation in April 2002 of the Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Based on discussions with a Malaysian campaigner who attended the meetings in India, Barry predicted that the Malaysian government would ban asbestos soon.
After the seminar, delegates attended a reception during which they were able to view the photographic exhibition: Let Us Praise Famous Men; the Poisonous Legacy of Cape plc by photographer Hein du Plessis. During the reception there was a book launch marking the London publication of Asbestos Blues: Labour, Capital, Physicians and the State in South Africa (which deals with the asbestos mining industry). The author, Jock McCulloch, talked about years spent researching the production processes and corporate histories of asbestos companies. An engraved pewter tankard was presented to Jock to commemorate the date of the London publication.
Congress House Event
The purpose of the Asbestos Roundtable that took place at Congress House on April 17 was to bring together representatives from international victims’ groups to exchange information and plan future strategies. The event was co-chaired by Laurie Kazan-Allen of IBAS and Nigel Bryson, Director of Health and the Environment of the GMB trade union. Sponsors of the session included the TUC and Irwin Mitchell Solicitors.
|Asbestos Roundtable, Congress House.|
During the morning, formal presentations were made by representatives from the following countries:
Engineer Fernanda Giannasi from the Brazilian Asbestos Victims’ Group emphasized the need for global asbestos victims to act together. She highlighted the case of an Italian company which was exposing workers in Eritrea to asbestos, a substance banned in Italy. Fernanda said that the same standards must apply in the developed and developing world. The international division of work now prevalent condemns developing countries to specialize in discredited technologies exported from rich countries. The lack of regulation, social controls and the means to obtain financial compensation in the developing world allow exploitation and environmental pollution to take place virtually unchecked. Asbestos victims and groups must work together to eliminate environmental racism and injustice. Asbestos is now on the International Labor Organization (ILO) agenda and will be discussed at a meeting to be held in Switzerland soon. Pressure should be brought to encourage the ILO to update ILO Convention 162.
Solicitor Bob Ruers spoke about the progress achieved by the Dutch Asbestos Victims’ Group and the Dutch Socialist Party which have been pivotal forces in changing the way in which the government deals with asbestos victims. The Dutch Asbestos Victims’ Group was set up in 1995 with 3 goals:
To shorten the legal agony of asbestos victims;
To achieve recognition and compensation for the victims of occupational asbestos exposure;
To achieve compensation for all asbestos victims.
Bob discussed several Dutch asbestos cases and explained that much of the asbestos illness was due to Eternit, a multinational company which has traditionally had a strong presence in Holland. It was the practice in Holland from 1937-1975 for Eternit to give asbestos waste away for use on farms and in road building. Many people contracted asbestos-related diseases from these sources. The Dutch government, not Eternit, paid for the clean-up of contaminated roads and rural areas. Eternit has fought and continues to fight environmental cases. The Government has worked closely with many segments of the population to formulate two national compensation schemes for asbestos victims. While some victims still fall through the net, progress is being made.
Sociologist Annie Thebaud-Mony is a founding member of ANDEVA, the French Asbestos Victims’ Group, which now has 4,000 members throughout France. Twenty-five local associations act autonomously, with the national office in Paris co-ordinating their efforts. ANDEVA has been very active since the mid-1990s and has forced Parliament, insurance companies and health insurance organizations to address asbestos-related issues. ANDEVA has also been successful in generating media interest. The pressure which ANDEVA has applied at the highest political levels in Parliament has forced through changes in regulations and legislation on compensation. On February 28, 2002 , the French Supreme Court handed down a judgment which was a great victory for French asbestos victims. According to the ANDEVA Press Release: "The Judges upheld 30 judgments of inexcusable fault against employers which had exposed workers to asbestos. After 50 years of lies, the companies which manufactured and processed asbestos have finally been brought to justice and asbestos victims have received the judicial recognition and compensation they deserve."
Journalist Salvatore Nay is a member of ABEVA, the Belgium Asbestos Victims’ Group. As in Holland, Eternit was a very important and powerful asbestos producer. Unfortunately, unlike Dutch asbestos victims, Belgian victims have been unable to obtain financial compensation from Eternit because of an unsympathetic judicial regime; there has never been a successful personal injury case for asbestos-related disease in Belgium! While there is limited compensation available for some workers with asbestos diseases, there is no compensation for asbestos victims who are self-employed, civil servants, members of the military or railway workers. The first civil case got to court in 1996; it failed because the claimant was unable to prove that his employer had intentionally exposed him to a dangerous substance (asbestos). Another problem victims face is the 20-year statute of limitations for these claims.
Victim support worker Phyllis Craig told of the work done since 1984 by Clydeside Action on Asbestos (CAA). For many years, CAA was run by local asbestos victims many of whom had worked as insulators in Scottish shipyards and factories. A few years ago, funding was obtained to employ full-time professional staff. This year, CAA submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament urging the Government to reduce the time taken to resolve asbestos cases in Scotland. Phyllis said that time wasting and delays are built into the legal process. Although there have been hundreds of cases brought by men who worked at John Brown’s Shipyards, each new case has to prove the existence of John Brown’s. The defendants can, and often do, deny all the facts and liabilities. CAA maintains that in commercial courts, cases are settled right away - why not in asbestos cases?
The Group has been active in the campaign to raise the profile of the "notorious" decisions in the Fairchild case; an amendment to the petition submitted to the Scottish Parliament was drafted which would hold all defendants jointly and severally liable. When insurers Chester Street went into liquidation in January 2001, CAA lobbied MPs, MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliaments), the Lord Provost and others to come up with an alternative compensation scheme.
Tommy Gorman from the Clydebank Asbestos Partnership put the Scottish asbestos problems in context: "the Clydeside area has experienced one of the highest incidence rates of lung cancer in the world. The City of Glasgow has the highest actual numbers of asbestos victims and cancer patients…" These high rates of illness are linked to nearly one hundred years of industrial production at Clydebank’s shipyards and engineering works during which the use of asbestos was widespread and poorly controlled. Responding to the needs of the local people, the Asbestos Partnership Group was set up by the Greater Glasgow Health Board, West Dunbartonshire Council, Clydebank Health Issues Group and the Clydebank Asbestos Group in February, 1998. The Partnership, run by full-time, professional staff supported by committed unpaid volunteers, has raised the profile of asbestos issues by organizing an Asbestos Awareness Day, a national asbestos conference, medical seminars, the production and distribution of information leaflets and a community school initiative. The Partnership has worked closely with Clydeside Action on Asbestos in petitioning the Scottish Parliament and in participating in discussions with the Secretary of State for Scotland: Mrs. Helen Liddell. A protest rally attended by 1,200 people in Clydebank earlier this year highlighted the injustices being experienced by asbestos victims throughout the UK.
Tony Whitson, from Greater Manchester Hazards, spoke of issues being dealt with by many groups from the North of England including Merseyside Asbestos Victims’, Bradford Asbestos Victims’, Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims’ and Sheffield and Rotherham Asbestos Victims’ Groups. In response to the growing mesothelioma epidemic over the last couple of years, defendants and their insurers have adopted a more aggressive attitude towards asbestos claims. This hardening of attitude and developments such as the Chester Street liquidation and the Fairchild judgments have disadvantaged victims. For this reason, the Asbestos Sub-committee of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health has proved invaluable. This body enables victims’ representatives to engage in periodic and direct dialogue with MPs. Issues which have been raised at this forum include: double diagnosis of asbestos diseases by victims’ doctors and defendants’ or government doctors, discrepancy in medical awareness and treatment throughout the UK, unrealistic timetables for medical services and processing of benefit and compensation claims.
Asbestos has been and will remain a priority for the GMB union said Nigel Bryson. Many GMB members were occupationally exposed to asbestos and have subsequently contracted asbestos-related diseases. One percent of GMB members are insulators; they account for 50% of all disease claims. During the mid-1990s, the GMB actively supported UK proposals to ban chrysotile. The union has also been at the forefront of the fight to secure compensation for those affected by the Chester Street liquidation. Investigations are on-going on the vulnerability of Lloyd’s of London to asbestos claims and the implications of the Federal Mogul / T&N administration order for victims. More details about the GMB’s Asbestos: It’s Still a Killer campaign are on the GMB website: www.gmb.org.uk/health&safety
The Mesothelioma Information Project is a unique national resource which was started in 1999 by specialist nurse Mavis Robinson. During her years as a nurse in Leeds, Mavis became aware that there was a desperate need for more information on mesothelioma. Understanding their illnesses and treatment options helps people and their relatives cope. Nurses are better placed to speak freely to patients than doctors who often fail to communicate in language which is easily understood. To fill this information vacuum, funding was obtained to train regional nurses in caring for asbestos victims and to produce information for mesothelioma victims and their families. A telephone information line was set up and thousands of calls have been received from patients and medical professionals. Four thousand copies of the booklet: Mesothelioma - Information for Patients and Carers were distributed last year. The funding for the project runs out in September 2002.
|Asbestos Roundtable, Congress House.|
The afternoon session was structured informally around the following issues: state benefits/legal actions, medical issues, public awareness and the preparation of a Roundtable Communiqué. Delegates unanimously approved the motion to award a Certificate of Outstanding Achievement recognizing the importance of the legal action brought in the UK on behalf of South African asbestos victims. The Certificate singled out the efforts of Solicitor Richard Meeran who pioneered the case and congratulated Richard, the law firm of Leigh, Day & Co., the South African government, NGOs, campaigners and others who contributed to the eventual resolution of this case.
During the discussion session, Solicitor Richard Spoor distributed a handout explaining another legal action: the case against Gencor, one of the biggest mining houses in South Africa. In the early 1960s, Gencor acquired Gefco and Msauli, companies which produced blue and white asbestos respectively. A few years later, Gefco was the world’s biggest producer of blue asbestos employing thousands of people at ten mines and five mills. According to Richard: "Conditions in and about the mines were catastrophically bad." Believing that "Gencor has a responsibility to take steps to accurately determine … the nature and extent of their liabilities to present and future victims of asbestos mining," Richard and his associates are trying to raise awareness about Gencor’s behavior and the plans for Gefco, Msauli and Gencor to deregister. Using the process of "unbundling," Gencor can put its assets and shares out of the reach of the victims.
House of Commons Briefing
Asbestos – An International Time Bomb was the title of a briefing session for MPs which was held in the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons from 5-7 pm on April 17. Held under the auspices of the Asbestos Sub-Committee of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, the objectives of this meeting included: keeping asbestos high on the UK agenda, updating MPs on national and global asbestos problems and providing a venue to exhibit photographs taken in South African communities decimated by asbestos.
|Michael Clapham chairing House of Commons briefing.|
MP Michael Clapham, Chair of the All Party Group, welcomed a capacity audience to the meeting and explained the role played by the Asbestos Sub-Committee over the last two years. Vital information on issues affecting asbestos victims had been personally communicated to MPs through this forum. Once informed, the MPs held fruitful discussions with government officials and Ministers. Michael expressed the belief that asbestos must be regarded as a global problem and that action must be taken at the highest international levels to achieve justice for all asbestos victims. The ultimate aim has to be a global ban on the use of all asbestos.
|Laurie Kazan-Allen with photographer Hein du Plessis.|
IBAS Coordinator Laurie Kazan-Allen discussed the international operations of T&N, Ltd., the most prominent asbestos group in the UK. Despite increasing knowledge about the risks of asbestos, T&N regarded a high level of asbestos-related disease as "acceptable," doing little to develop alternative products or technologies. On October 1, 2001 Federal Mogul, T&N’s parent company, filed for voluntary Chapter 11 reorganization in the US and administration under the UK Insolvency Act of 1986. While the company continues "business as usual," asbestos cases are suspended indefinitely. The 18 months life expectancy of mesothelioma plaintiffs means that none of the current claimants will outlive these corporate manoeuvres. Victims could have reasonably expected T&N’s insurers to honour existing settlements and process valid asbestos claims while the company was in administration. Unfortunately, nothing is straightforward in this affair. T&N’s UK administrators, Kroll Buchler Phillips, admit that given the complexities of T&N’s insurance history, there will be no short-term solution. Laurie urged the UK Government to ensure that T&N pays its debt of honour to asbestos claimants.
A few days before the House of Lords was due to hear the all-important Matthews, Fox and Fairchild appeals, Solicitor Colin Ettinger, Chair of the Health and Safety Group of the Society of Labour Lawyers, explained the legal technicalities and serious implications for asbestos victims of the judgments commonly referred to as the "Fairchild case." He believed that the Government’s plan to extend the Pneumoconiosis Act to compensate those adversely affected by "Fairchild" was well intentioned but inadequate. "People whose lives have been decimated by exposure to asbestos have the right to compensation from negligent employers. The Government should ensure that defendants and insurers are held accountable."
|Nigel Bryson speaking at House of Commons briefing.|
Current proposals for new UK regulations to protect workers from exposure to asbestos contained within the British infrastructure were discussed by Nigel Bryson who was critical of the delays caused by two rounds of consultation. Highlighting the hidden presence and remaining risks from asbestos, Nigel said: "There are millions of buildings within the UK that contain some form of asbestos materials. The new duty to manage asbestos in buildings must be introduced quickly. This will then help protect workers and members of the public from being exposed to killer asbestos fibres. There must be no doubt that employers have to treat asbestos seriously and severe penalties must apply to those whose negligence exposes people to the fatal fibres."
The title of the presentation by Brazilian Engineer Fernanda Giannasi was Asbestos Problems in the Developing World. Ms. Giannasi reflected on Gandhi’s definition of the Seven Deadly Sins focusing on the seventh: commerce without morality. Describing a recent case study, Fernanda explained how the illegal use of asbestos gaskets in a Birmingham factory in 2001 was tracked back to a wholesaler in Florida, a trading intermediate in Sao Paulo and an unregistered production facility in the outskirts of Sao Paulo. Fernanda displayed photographs which showed the appalling conditions in the factory where workers were cutting and processing asbestos without even the most basic protection. As a factory inspector, Fernanda was able to shut down the facility until the production processes were modified so that asbestos was no longer used. Fernanda called for global solidarity and cooperation amongst asbestos victims so that double standards could be exposed and eliminated.
Dutch Senator Bob Ruers’ PowerPoint presentation on A Global Strategy for Asbestos Victims concentrated on the operations of the two Eternit companies: Etex Group, Belgian owned, and Eternit AG, Swiss-owned. Bob said that while most Eternit victims in the Netherlands are now compensated for their injuries "only a few hundred kilometers away, in Belgium, Eternit/Etex… the holding company of Eternit Holland, doesn’t pay a penny to compensate its asbestos victims." Eternit/ETEX is a huge multinational with subsidiaries in 48 countries, some of which still use asbestos. "Outside Europe, Eternit often denies liability vehemently and the victims have to fight (for) their rightful compensation every inch of the way." To redress this injustice, the Dutch Socialist Party is taking steps to create international solidarity amongst victims by collecting information, assisting in the founding of national asbestos victims’ groups, expanding the network of these groups and initiating legal actions and consumer protests against Eternit.
|Announcement of photographic presentation by Hein du Plessis.|
A series of black and white photographs taken by photographer Hein du Plessis in 1999 in Prieska, South Africa was the subject of the next presentation. Describing how he became involved with the Cape claimants, Hein said that these photographs gave a voice to many people now silenced by death. The images graphically illustrate the suffering of the asbestos workers, their families and the contaminated communities The humanity of the photographer's subjects pitted against the callousness of the corporation’s behaviour symbolizes the on-going struggle of asbestos victims everywhere.
Solicitor Richard Meeran, introducing the High Commissioner for Swaziland, said that while the South African asbestos victims of Cape are anticipating receipt of compensation after last year’s negotiated settlement, T&N’s asbestos victims in Swaziland have little chance of getting compensation. The Reverend Mngomezulu asked MPs to consider not only the plight of UK claimants but also that of Swazi victims.
The Chair thanked all the speakers noting and supporting the repeated calls for global solidarity. Before concluding the meeting, the Chair presented two French lawyers to the meeting; Jean-Paul Teissonnière and Sylvie Topaloff are asbestos specialists who have worked closely with the French Asbestos Victims’ Group for many years. In February 2002, thirty French asbestos claimants won a landmark victory at the Supreme Court. This precedent would not have been set but for the dedication and hard work of Jean-Paul and Sylvie. The lawyers were warmly received by their English colleagues. With that, the meeting was brought to a close.
The South African High Commission Reception
On April 18, a reception was held in the Reading Room of the South African High Commission in London to mark the victory of the South African asbestos claimants over the Cape Asbestos Co. Ltd, a British-owned asbestos company. Photographs of many of the injured were displayed by Hein du Plessis, the photographer whose work helped to stimulate public interest throughout the years during which the case was dragged through the British courts. George Johannes, the South African Deputy High Commissioner, welcomed guests to the High Commission and spoke of his long-standing interest in the case. From the beginning, the South African Government had been supportive of the attempt to obtain compensation for the victims. The Government’s input was particularly important when it encouraged the House of Lords in 2000 to have the cases heard in Britain and not in South Africa. George thanked all the people who had worked so hard on behalf of the claimants. He talked about the affected communities and the hope they now have for the future. Although the sums awarded were small by European standards, he was sure that in South Africa the compensation payments would help to ease the plight of the victims.
Richard Meeran, the lawyer who pioneered the action, discussed the ups and downs experienced throughout the many stages of the case. Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator of IBAS, recalled her first discussion with Richard about his plans. At that time, she told him that when Cape realized the scale of its liabilities in North America, it sold off all its US assets and retreated back to the UK depriving many US asbestos victims of compensation. Despite Laurie’s warning and almost insurmountable obstacles, Richard and his team proceeded with this historic case. For this reason, the delegates to the Asbestos Victims’ Roundtable had unanimously decided to issue a Certificate of Outstanding Achievement. The text of this award reads:
Representatives from international Asbestos Victims’ Groups and other specialists working with asbestos issues who met in London, on 17 April, 2002, hereby declare their admiration and respect for the individuals and groups which worked so hard to achieve compensation for South Africans injured by exposure to asbestos produced by the Cape Asbestos Co. Ltd.
They wish to single out the outstanding efforts of Richard Meeran who pioneered this case. His single-minded commitment to his clients and determination to overcome all the legal hurdles was pivotal in obtaining justice for thousands of asbestos claimants. Furthermore, the victory of the Cape plaintiffs has put all multinational companies on notice: double standards of behaviour will no longer be tolerated. The export of discredited and dangerous technologies from the developed to the developing world must be stopped; as has been shown by the Cape case, legal avenues now exist to expose and punish such corporate misconduct.
By signing this certificate, we hereby express our respect for Richard, his team at Leigh, Day & Co. and all those who worked and campaigned for this landmark victory.
|Richard Meeran and family after the presentations.|
The certificate, signed by roundtable delegates representing thousands of asbestos victims in Europe, North and Latin America, was presented to Richard by his son and daughter. Fernanda Giannasi then presented Richard’s wife with a bouquet of flowers, thanking her on behalf of all those injured by asbestos saying: "After the Cape case, there is hope for many asbestos victims in the developing world. We see a light at the end of the tunnel."
Richard Meeran, Deputy High Commisssioner George |
Johannes and Laurie Kazan-Allen.
Documentary film-maker and journalist Laurie Flynn researched asbestos issues in the 1980s and was unstinting in the assistance he provided during the case. He spoke of the importance of taking such leaps of faith and praised the humanity of people like Richard and all those who campaigned for the claimants. Martyn Day, Senior Partner at Leigh, Day & Co., said he was proud his firm had been involved in such a groundbreaking case. On behalf of all his partners, he expressed the firm’s appreciation of the commitment and dedication of Richard and his team of solicitors, barristers, paralegals and support staff. George Johannes concluded the formal segment of the reception and urged everyone to enjoy a glass or two of splendid South African wine.
|Group photo of Reception attendees.|
May 3, 2002
COMMUNIQUE FROM ASBESTOS ROUNDTABLE, 17 APRIL 2002
The Asbestos Roundtable held on 17 April 2002 at Congress House, London agreed that the following communiqué be issued in pursuit of ending the carnage caused by the mining, use and removal of asbestos in all its forms.
Global Ban on Asbestos
We call on all governments to ban the use of asbestos, including the mining, extraction, processing and use of all forms of asbestos with the limited derogation of essential use where substitute materials would be more harmful to people than its use. A timetable to be agreed for the total ban on asbestos use. A just transition programme should be introduced by governments and employers to protect workers in industries who will lose their jobs because of the asbestos ban.
Removal of Asbestos
We call on all governments to introduce legislation on the management and removal of asbestos in commercial and residential premises.
State Benefits for Victims of Asbestos
We call on all governments to provide state benefits for ALL asbestos-related diseases. Criteria for benefits are often too stringent, excluding many people disabled by asbestos diseases. We call on governments to review benefit schemes and to co-operate in harmonising benefits to achieve equity and justice for all asbestos victims.
We call on all governments to ensure that companies make adequate provision to meet asbestos claims. Civil claims should reflect the severity of the injury sustained. Corporations guilty of exposing workers, the public and the environment to asbestos should be held liable. Governments should not permit the use of bankruptcy and insolvency procedures to avoid liability for asbestos claims. In the event that corporations default on their financial responsibilities we call on governments to ensure that asbestos victims are adequately compensated. Such schemes should pay compensation equivalent to awards available through the courts.
Research for a Cure for Asbestos-related Diseases
We call on all governments to carry out research for a cure for asbestos-related diseases, funded by companies, the insurance industry and governments which have profited in the past from the use of asbestos.
We call on governments to commission a report into the problems identified in this communiqué with a view to achieving harmonisation in legislation, compensation, benefits and medical treatments, providing justice for those affected by the legacy of the past use of asbestos and preventing future generations from suffering the consequences of exposure to this deadly dust. The report will be presented to an international conference.
Groups and NGO's
We call on governments to acknowledge the pivotal role of asbestos victims groups and NGOs in improving the plight of asbestos victims and strongly urge co-operation with these groups, other social movements and NGOs working in the field as is the policy of the United Nations. We stress the necessity and urgency of funding of projects intended to improve the situation of asbestos victims.