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Eternit global asbestos tycoons, Stephan Schmidheiny and Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, have been found guilty for their part in the asbestos deaths of thousands of Italians. They were sentenced today to 16 years in prison. Multimillion euro fines were awarded against the defendants by the three judges in the Turin Court. Asbestos victims from Italy, France and Belgium listened attentively to the Court's ruling in what is commonly referred to as “The Great Asbestos Trial.”
The Turin court announced the verdict in a criminal case brought by Italian prosecutors against former asbestos executives employed by the Swiss and Belgian Eternit Groups: Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny and Belgian Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne. In recognition of the international importance of these legal proceedings and the dearth of information about Eternit in English, a book has been published this February by ban asbestos campaigners, including the BWI. It examines this case against the backdrop of Eternit activities on three continents.
The defendants were charged with causing permanent environmental disaster and failing to comply with health and safety standards when they ran asbestos-cement factories in Casale Monferrato and other Italian cities. It was alleged that as a result of their actions, hazardous exposures took place which caused a humanitarian asbestos disaster. The Public Prosecutor (PP) was asking for 20-year jail sentences. The court accepted the prosecution case that top management had failed to take the appropriate technical, organisational, procedural, and hygienic measures needed to minimise exposure to asbestos. For example, there were no local extraction systems, adequate ventilation of rooms or working procedures designed to avoid the handling of the substances, or cleaning systems for work clothes. There was no proper care or effective use of protective equipment, no suitable health checks for workers, and no attempt to educate themselves or the employees about the specific risks arising from asbestos and measures to reduce these risks.
The asbestos-injured and the asbestos bereaved have waited more than thirty years to confront those they hold responsible for the epidemic which has caused so many deaths, and coachloads of Italians made the journey to Turin to hear the verdict - including hundreds of high school students from Casale Monferrato. They were joined by asbestos campaigners from all over the world, all of whom will wanted to see justice done by the three-judge panel.
The book examines Eternit operations in seven countries, and reveal that Eternit consistently prioritized profits regardless of the cost paid by workers, family members, consumers and communities. Eternit achieved corporate growth through collusion with discredited regimes. In Nazi Germany, slave labour from concentration camps was used in the Berlin Eternit factory. During the apartheid era in South Africa, black workers were treated like slaves in the asbestos mines and in Nicaragua, the company benefitted from the support of the dictatorial Somoza family. Eternit and The Great Asbestos Trial is available online on the IBAS website from February 13, 2012.