Dismounting S. Schmidheiny. Asbestos crimes: from the multinational Eternit to the Avina foundation

Dismounting S. Schmidheiny. Asbestos crimes: from the multinational Eternit to the Avina foundation

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By Paco Puche

Essay on the greatest industrial and labor catastrophe of the 20th century: asbestos. In short, a devastating biography of one of the great fortunes of the world.

The truth advances and no one will be able to contain it. I accuse. Émile Zola.

I wonder how the Schmidheiny family makes a living knowing that so many people have died from asbestos. Rita Feldmann, relative of a victim.

So that the voice of the damned of the earth may be heard. Annie Thébaud.


“Currently more than 125 million people around the world are exposed to asbestos in their workplace” (WHO, 2006: 1). As a consequence, more than 100,000 people die each year from this cause, which is equivalent to one World Trade Center every 10 days, which is said soon.

The number of diseases continues to increase even in countries where this material was banned in the 1990s due to the long latency of these ailments; and “even if its use is immediately prohibited, the number of deaths it causes will only begin to decline within several decades” (WHO, 2006: 2).

In short, every five minutes a person dies in the world from a disease due to asbestos or asbestos and this will continue to happen for many years.

And it is that the asbestos cycle begins in mining, normally open pit, requires transport to transformation places, in them, in 90% of cases it is mixed with cement to give asbestos-cement. Later it is found again in repair companies -automobiles, plumbing, construction, naval companies ... - then it reappears in landfills and ship scrapping, mainly in impoverished countries such as India. All the asbestos that is currently installed - in pipes and water tanks, on roofs ... - must be "de-asbestos" safely, taking it to protected storage. That is why so many millions of people are exposed to its deadly effects.

If we add to this that close to one hundred and fifty countries have not yet prohibited the extraction and consumption of asbestos, it is not an exaggeration to call this industry "the invisible Hiroshima", and that asbestos is classified as the greatest industrial catastrophe and work of all times.

The generalized ban on asbestos in the European Union in 2005 is changing the business of this mineral in the world, currently shifting to Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Canada and Zimbabwe as the main extractors of the mineral, and to China, Russia, India , Brazil, Kazakhstan and Thailand as main consumers of products manufactured with it (Ruers, 2006: 30 and USGS, 2008).

But until the end of the 20th century, and for most of the century, it was only a few European families that dominated the world asbestos business. Especially three: the Swiss Schmidheiny -the most important- the Belgian Emsens and the French Cuvelier. And they, along with other British, Italian and Spanish magnates, have been constituted in lobby since 1929, under the acronym SAIAC (Kazan-Allen, 2006: 9), and have exploited the integral business in the last century, preferably under the name of Eternit (Uralita in Spain). In 2004 most of these companies have ceased their activities with asbestos, at least in the 52 countries where it is prohibited (Ruers: 19).

The Schmidheiny

Schmidheiny and Eternit represent an oligopoly that has turned this family and its allies into great economic empires at the cost of millions of victims. As filmmaker Kurosawa would say, they have risen to a "throne of blood."

Three generations of Schmidheiny have operated the asbestos business from 1920 to the late 1990s, although the last word has not yet been written. How can we know, with the secrecy that has characterized them, that the group company called Amanco, dedicated to manufacturing pipes and operating in Latin America, did not continue with asbestos until 2007, when it was sold? Without going any further, this same month the sentence given in Palermo (Italy) against some businessmen who had used asbestos after its ban was known. Three company executives have been sentenced to more than 16 years in prison.

The history of this Swiss family and their relationship with asbestos is dark. His relationship with the Nazi regime, with South African apartheid and with the dictatorial regimes of Latin America for the exploitation of asbestos (mining or industrial transformation) are a book example of how capitalism is intrinsically destructive: it cannot escape profit no matter how fundamental human rights are affected, including the right par excellence, the right to life.

Max Schmidheiny -of the third generation, father of the members who are currently living- declared in his day: “I have always invested my money, this is how I have become great”. (March-Ronco, 2009: 203), and on another occasion “why are we going to worry about some victims? The workers can be replaced” (Ruers: 43).

This “sensitivity” of one of the family patriarchs has led to the fact that, according to the Swiss Trade Union Union, between 1945 and 1985, more than 110,000 employees were exposed to asbestos intensively or seriously, in Switzerland alone. Taking into account the mineral used, the Swiss Trade Union Union estimated that from 1980 to 2030 there would be between 5,000 and 12,500 new cases of cancer due to asbestos. As 90% of the asbestos imported in this country was destined for its two companies, this family is directly responsible for these deaths. In addition, almost no house built in Switzerland before 1990 is asbestos-free. Who will pay the costs of ‘deamiantization’ and secure storage?

“Will the victims of asbestos in Switzerland never get justice? Nobody knows; but the last page of this scandalous chapter in industrial history has not yet been written ”(Roselli: 236). Possibly it will be written in a country in which the peak of the hecatomb of the victims of asbestos is expected by 2020 (Ruers: 70).

It has also been estimated that in Western Europe alone, about 500,000 people will die of mesothelioma, a cancer specific to asbestos in the first thirty years of this century (Vogel, 2005: 1). As in Europe at this time the three families have dominated, the Schmidheiny can be awarded more than a third of the massacre, and even more because the lobby turned them into a single company (oligopoly), which determined places of production, prices , imports, and masking maneuvers of the lethality of the mineral.

Around the world, at the time of the euphoria of the Eternit empire, between 1950 and 1989, the Swiss family had companies in 16 countries with more than 23,000 workers. With the rest of the families, they have controlled the extraction and production of asbestos-cement in 44 countries on the four largest continents, through the SAIAC cartel created in 1929, based in Switzerland. If at the beginning of the cartel the Schmidheiny did not have more than 3% of the world market, in 1945 the Swiss company represented more than a third of all the production of the companies that formed the cartel (Roselli, 2008: 86).

For example, in 1985, it is estimated that the Swiss and Belgian families controlled 25% of all the world's asbestos-cement. The table that follows tells of his might.

As Alejandro Teitelbaum (2010: 290) maintains, “Article 7 (crimes against humanity) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome 1998) can be invoked before the courts as current law against leaders of transnational companies, in particular subsection 1 section k): 'other inhuman acts that cause great suffering or seriously threaten physical integrity or mental or physical health' ... or article II, section c) of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: 'submission intention of the group to conditions of existence that will lead to its physical destruction, total or partial '”.

That is why this family should be tried for genocide or crimes against humanity, as requested by many of the associations of victims that exist scattered throughout the world, requesting an International Criminal Court so that justice is done in the crime of asbestos. The justice that is requested responds to the foundations of this institution. It is about repairing the damage inflicted on people and restoring the environment, it is about a sufficient social sanction to deter future offenders and it is about "avoiding the destructive effect of the social body that would have impunity" (Teitelbaum: 280) . This is not about revenge.

If we go from the quantitative to the qualitative, we have to take a brief journey through the black history of the family.

In Nazi Germany

In the Nazi period, the Swiss Eternit had a factory in Germany since 1929, together with other members of the SAIAC, under the name of DAZAG. The Italian journalist, based in Switzerland, María Roselli has investigated this period in her book Amiante & Eternit (2008) and has demonstrated with documents and witnesses two very sinister matters: one, that they collaborated with the Nazis, highlighting Max Schmidheiny, who has been shown their philonazism, and another, that they employed prisoners of war in the factory in the form of forced labor or slaves. The appearance of documents that are reproduced in facsimile form in the book and the contribution of an 87-year-old surviving Belarusian witness, whom the author has interviewed, leave no room for doubt. Nadja Ofsjannikova has stated that they "worked to exhaustion", twelve hours a day and six days a week, with unbearable hunger. At nineteen, "it was like a concentration camp," he acknowledged. When in 2000 he went to Eternit Switzerland demanding compensation, he received no response. The Swiss family denies the employment of forced laborers. The documents included in her book María Roselli show the opposite (p. 95 and 96).

In apartheid South Africa

The other sinister chapter where they exist is that of the performance of the Schmidheiny in South Africa during the apartheid era (1948-1994).

In 1941, Max Schmidheiny founded the company Everite Lda, which with the mines and factories that it was acquiring soon became one of the main companies in the country. “Since 1942, more than 55,000 people have worked for the various Schmidheiny companies under the apartheid regime; most of them were blacks deprived of rights ”(Roselli: 113).

The journalist has interviewed Fred Gonna, a trade unionist who has worked for Everite for twenty-five years. "They treated us like stupid children, it was absolutely terrible," he said. The interviewer asks: “Has the management of the Swiss company explained why it sold the company in 1992? Answer: “after 1992 this was not possible (it refers to the differences in wages with the whites and the terrible working conditions). That is why Stephan Schmidheiny has sold the company to a local. Schmidheiny has gotten out of the 'dust' before the new government has been able to push him to assume his responsibilities ... We have written to Switzerland at the headquarters of his holding company and we have clearly meant to him that he should face up to his responsibilities and compensate the sick people and the families of the dead… we have received a letter from the management in which they have informed us that they have always acted in accordance with the South African laws in force and that they have no responsibility, neither legally nor morally ”. (Dates of the company in South Africa: 1941-1992, official dates of apartheid: 1948-1994).

Between the 1950s and 1960s the Swiss firm did good business selling asbestos-cement roofs for the ‘townships’ (cities where only blacks lived). These slums, along with those around the world, where nearly a billion people live, are characterized by that endless panorama of corrugated sheets of asbestos-cement (uralite in Spain), which leave the name of the Schmidheiny wherever he goes.

Asbestos extraction and use are currently prohibited in South Africa (see table in annex).

With the Latin American dictatorships

The other episode to which we are going to refer is that of the good relations that the Schmidheiny and Eternit have maintained with some dictatorships on the American continent.

In the case of Nicaragua, they established themselves under the name of Nicalit, sharing ownership with the dictator Somoza (40% stake) and they were producing asbestos-cement from 1967 to 1993 (Puche 2009: 6). The victims' association wrote in 2002 “the disease has hit a large number of us because we had worked without any protection. However, those in charge of the company do not want to recognize the professional causes of our ills ”. When in 2006 they asked for help to sue the company in the United States courts, they found that on February 22, 2007, the Amanco group that comprises Nicalit had been sold and they had not been able to obtain redress for legal reasons.

In Guatemala, mired in a long civil war and military dictatorship from 1960 to 1986, when in 1976 the country was ravaged by an earthquake, Duralit, a subsidiary of the holding company with the participation of the Schmidheiny, took the opportunity to supply tons of asbestos-cement with the help international (Roselli: 82).

In Brazil, in 1967, the Swiss and Belgian families opened the Canabrava chrysotile (white asbestos) mine, one of the largest in the world, and asbestos-cement factories in various regions. “In a few years, Brazil becomes the third largest producer of asbestos in the world and one of the first exporters. Eternit and Saint Gobain dominate the Latin American market. Asbestos is everywhere on the continent, impoverishing thousands of workers and also women and children who live in the vicinity of factories ... thus crime to infinity. Deliberately, European multinational firms export death and desolation all over the continent. From 1960 to 1990 -thanks to asbestos produced cheaply in Brazilian mines and factories- Stephan Schmidheiny, president of Eternit Switzerland and J. Luís Beffa de Saint-Gobain, built industrial empires ”(Thébaud-Mony, 2008: 235, 236 ). These are the years of the Brazilian military dictatorship.

Stephan schmidheiny

From the fourth generation of the Swiss family, Stephan is one of the heirs of the entire asbestos empire. He shares the inheritance with his brother Thomas, dedicated to cement. Each of them is among the 354 greatest tycoons in the world, according to the 2010 Forbes list.

Born in 1947, in 1974 he is already part of the asbestos business. In 1976 he obtained the position of president and in 1984 received the inheritance of the Swiss Eternit. It was in the asbestos business at least until 1998 in which the Brazilian Canabrava mine was nationalized, and in which Eternit, through another company called SAMA, participated until that date, according to Fernanda Giannasi, a Brazilian labor inspector, in communication personal. Total, at least 25 years. We say "at least" because of the warning made above. We do not know if through the company Amanco, dedicated to the manufacture of tubes, and in countries where there is no prohibition, it continues as in South Africa “applying current legislation”.

The dates are important to dismantle the image that the last of the Schmidheiny tries to make through a powerful propaganda apparatus. Image that he pretends to be a philanthropist concerned about the environment and an apostle of green capitalism.

There is extensive agreement among victims' associations, scientists, judges, unions and activists that the lethality of asbestos was well established since the early 20th century. For more than fifty years, companies led by the SAIAC cartel, dominated by the Schmidheiny family, have tried to hide and, where appropriate, delay the ban when it was coming.

It is wise

Therefore, first, it was known. The following list of discoveries, not exhaustive, supports what we say:

In 1899, the English Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops already pointed out the harmful effects of fiber (Roselli: 55). In 1900, in London, the doctor H. Montague confirmed the existence of abestosis, a disease related to asbestos dust (cited in Thébaud-Mony: 166). In 1919 in the United States, insurers refused to insure the lives of asbestos workers (Roselli: 56). In 1930 the relationship between asbestos and abestosis was definitely established (Merewether et al., 1930). In 1955 the relationship between inhalation of asbestos and lung cancer was demonstrated (Doll, 1955). In 1960 the works of Wagner and others (1960) discovered the appearance of cancer specific to asbestos (mesothelioma) in the miners and in the populations around Johannesburg. In the mid-sixties, the work of the American Selikoff's team (1964 and 1965), achieved the recognition of the scientific community of its harmfulness. In 1973 the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized that asbestos exposure caused mesothieloma and lung cancer. In 1978 the European Parliament declared asbestos as a labor carcinogen, but many states were anesthetized by industrial and financial lobbies and until 27 years later, in 2005, it was not prohibited in the European Union. In 1936 in Germany, 1943 Italy, 1945 France, 1953 Switzerland, 1955 Austria and 1969 Belgium, abestosis is on the list of occupational diseases in those countries (Ruers: 39; Roselli: 57).

Despite all these findings, in 1984, the still owner of Eternit, Max Schmidheiny, affirmed the safety of the mineral. It said: “Back in the sixties I have heard of M. Selikoff. It was said that he fabled, that he investigated to earn money. We have to say that Eternit was not dangerous, since the fibers are trapped in the cement. Absolutely without danger, it is the truth ”(Roselli: 60). I was forgetting something as obvious as the entire life cycle of asbestos products, as we have explained in the introduction and in which their danger is extreme. Eternit was very dangerous. As Roselli (61) says "the industry has sought for decades to disprove these results by commissioning its own studies, and continues to do so in many countries, with tragic consequences for hundreds of thousands of men and women."

To such an extent it was dangerous, and it was known, that from 1975 in Sweden the use of asbestos in construction was prohibited, in 1980 in Denmark, in 1983 in Iceland extended to any use of the mineral, in 1989 in Switzerland for materials of construction and in 1994 for all use, 1996 total prohibition in France, in 2002 in Spain and so on until 2005 when it is prohibited in the United States and in all the remaining countries of the European Union, until today in which in 52 countries it is prohibited (see table in annex).

In the United States, from as early as 1966, asbestos victims sue the industry giant Johns-Mansville and win compensation for the first time in history. In 1978, 445 asbestos workers obtained compensation amounting to 20 million dollars and so on until 2002, the year in which the number of lawsuits was 730,000 against 8,400 companies, from which compensation was claimed for a total of 70 thousand millions of dollars.

According to the Rapport Eternit (Catrina, 1985: 99), after the Selikoff investigations of 1965, it can be seen that the general attitude of those responsible is that of “not waking up the sleeping dogs”, but “for Eternit Switzerland the situation it became unsustainable when in 1974 the threat of banning all products containing asbestos appeared ”(Ruers: 45).

Stephan Schmidheiny takes over the management of Eternit Switzerland

The years that precede the swearing-in of the Swiss Eternit presidency of the heir Stephan (1976) are loaded with ominous antecedents: irrefutable scientific evidence from the fifties of the last century of the lethality of the mineral, trials with millionaire compensation in the USA since 1966 (Roselli,: 185), threat of a general ban after the first Swedish ban in 1975, the union struggles that began to mobilize everywhere since 1974, and the burden of collaboration with South African apartheid, a country boycotted by mandate of the UN since 1950 to which the Swiss do not join.

The unions are mobilized: starting in 1974 in France, in the Amisol company in a fight that lasted four years; in 1977 in Gran Betraña where they entered the shareholders' meeting and threw an imitation of asbestos dust at the directors; In 1976, the strikes in the United States against the largest of the asbestos companies demanding safety and, finally, the strike in Greece, in a chrysotile factory, for 120 days to protest against professional risks, herald an awareness that already it will not stop until today, in which the main struggle is for compensation, justice, dismantling and prohibition in countries that still do not have it.

The kind face

For this reason, in his interviews and in his autobiography (Schmidheiny, 2006: 19) he boasts that he boasts that he is doing very well in business because of his nose: "my colleagues consider me a visionary" What in the case Asbestos was clear to anyone, even fasting business training.

In 1981 it publicly announced that the Swiss Eternit group would stop manufacturing asbestos products. In his last televised interview (since 2004 he has not said anything in public about asbestos) he affirms that “I consider myself a pioneer who abandons asbestos on his own before it is required by law” (Roselli: 179); And you're right, in Switzerland it was banned in 1989, but in 1975 it had been done in Sweden; He saw them coming: quite a visionary. And in his autobiography he tells “beyond being concerned about the health risks of the employees of the Group's companies, I came to the conclusion that this was not a very promising business to be in” (p. 8); and later confirms: “I made the decision to get out of asbestos, based on the potential human and environmental problems based on the mineral. But I also considered that in an age of increasing transparency, and growing concerns about health risks, it would be impossible to develop and maintain a successful business based on asbestos ”(p.9). It was clear that it was already difficult to continue deceiving people and prevent lawsuits from raining down from everywhere, and not just from the US.

But what has happened since 1976, the year of your presidency, and 1989, the year you sold the company? According to the statistics of the Swiss Customs Registry and the USGS (Roselli: 23), the Swiss extraction and import figures are as follows:

The figures are approximate, they have been taken at sight according to the graph that follows.

These data show two things. One that the big business takes place between 1970 and 1985, a period when everything was known and the voices of prohibition sounded loud. In these years, families amass great fortunes. And another, that indeed, Stephan started the substitution of the "killer" fiber until he got rid of the Swiss business in 1989. But we must not forget that he continues after these dates in South Africa, which he sells profitably in 1992 in Brazil, that maintains the mine until its expropriation in 1998 and in South America until when? Because it must be remembered that Amanco, a manufacturer of pipes for water conduction, until 2007 has not been sold to the Mexican Mexichen and that in this country the use of asbestos is still allowed. He himself tells in his aforementioned autobiography (p.14) that the construction materials companies (read asbestos) in Central America did not sell, which coincides with the permanence of Amanco until a couple of years ago.

The journalist Roselli (p.197) accusingly points out Stephan Smchidheiny: “If you decided in 1978 to abandon asbestos, how is it possible that Eternit created an association that same year to prevent asbestos from being registered in toxicity class 1 ? ”. This classification, which means substance of the highest risk, supposes the limitation of the working time of the people who work with these products, the inscription on them with a skull that warns of their dangers and the restriction of sales to the public. For this purpose, they created the Arbeitskreis Asbet in 1978, according to a facsimile letter provided by the journalist Roselli (p.195). The foundation remains until 1994.

In an article published in Switzerland in 2004, Stefano Guerra writes: “instead of boasting about his pioneering role in the conversion from asbestos-cement to fiber-cement, Eternit should explain the reasons why the conversion process has taken almost 20 years ”, (Rossi: 123).

This foundation along with others of the same style created in Germany in the same years (Roselli: 189) have tried by all means to hide information, to act as lobbies proposing the “controlled use” of the mineral and, in any case, to prevent its prohibition.

One of the arguments handled for not being able to get out of the asbestos was that there were no substitute materials. For example, in the report made by the Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche on Stephan Smchidheiny, by René Lüchinger, in August 2008, collected on the pages of Avina (, he says that in 1976, at a seminar Eternit intern, they were informed that no substitute for asbestos had been found. But later the journalist reports that "in 1978 Stephan Schmidheiny succeeded in bringing the first asbestos-free slab to the market, and when he inherited the Eternit group in 1984, half of the production of the Swiss plant in Niederurnen was already carried out without asbestos." Miracle, what in 1976 was impossible, two years later it was solved and eight more and half was replaced, why not one hundred percent?

But Ruers (p.73) says that already in the twenties and thirties of last century, there were patents for substitute products for asbestos-cement. Thermal insulation materials have been known since the 19th century (gypsum, fiberglass and rock, materials much less toxic than asbestos, not without problems) but although given the dominant position of the Eternit cartel, the competitors had nothing to do. As has been extensively argued in the book Eternit: Poison et domination (1983), all building elements existed and were available in variety and abundance not to be dethroned by their asbestos-cement substitutes.

Or going back to the Swiss miracle, “what Eternit hagiography tells about is rather the surprising speed - in just four years - with which Swiss laboratories manage to develop a fiber blend that can be integrated into the production process on the spot, to such an extent that in 1984 50% of the asbestos-free production can be delivered, although it takes another ten years, until 1994, to be able to say that the last asbestos tube has been manufactured ”by the Swiss group Eternit (Rossi: 119) . (Stepahn continues with production in Brazil and in Central America at least).

Regarding safety at work, in his autobiography (p.9) he tells us that “the Group's companies installed new equipment and filters in their factories to minimize the concentration of fibers in the air, and implemented training programs for the personnel in order to minimize the risks associated with asbestos ”. That he cared about the safety of his workers, in a word.

The trials against Eternit

This is in complete contrast to the accusations that he is currently the subject of in the criminal trial initiated on December 10, 2009, against him and the other owner, the Belgian Baron De Cartier, held in Turin and in which they are He accuses of an environmental catastrophe and intentional omission of labor safety rules (malicious crime). They are asking for 13 years in prison and compensation that can reach five billion euros! A fabulous figure only in this trial, in which he is tried for the death of two thousand people and a thousand sick from asbestos in the region of Turin. Judgment that is a first in the world because the owners had never been tried, it was the top executives who until now paid for the broken dishes.

The lawyers, members of the Victims Defense College, arrived from Switzerland with a copy of Schmidheiny's biography in which it is said that a medical report had already been known since the 1970s, which established a direct relationship between asbestos and cancer. The prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello, who has instructed the case, recalled to journalists that for years the multinational had vetoed mentioning that report and that it continued with its Italian production until 1986, seeking to maintain workers and inhabitants of the areas where it operated in the total ignorance. "We have determined that the two defendants had the real power to decide the security conditions of the Italian factories," he commented (Publimeter, 12/13/2009):

“Pero una correspondencia hecha pública por una investigación italiana, ha revelado que las consignas en materia de seguridad provenían de la dirección suiza de la sociedad… En julio de 1976 Stephan Schmidheiny recibe un mensaje de su administrador-delegado de Eternit Giannitrapani en el que le informa de la salud del personal de su fábrica en Casale Monferrato. En 1977 informa a su nuevo patrón que el porvenir de la producción de amianto en Italia es sombrío. Toda vez que el número de casos de abestosis en la fábrica es muy elevado”, (Roselli: 175). Lo sabía todo desde el principio.

Sobre Eternit suiza y sus responsables ha habido ya una pléyade de juicios (y los que se esperan)

El 26 de agosto de 2004 un Tribunal de Sao Paulo, Brasil, condena a Eternit por haber expuesto a sus asalariados al amianto y los condena a indemnizar no sólo a las víctimas actuales sino a los antiguos trabajadores que cayeron enfermos o fallecieron. Concierne a unas 2.500 víctimas. Éste juicio se desarrolla desde el pasado mes de abril en Sao Paulo, en segunda instancia.

Unos años antes del macrojuicio actual de Turín, en 1993, después de años de procedimiento judicial, la Asociación de familiares de víctimas de Casale Monferrato ha obtenido la condena de Giovanni Bautista Parodi, presidente de Eternit Italia, a tres años de reclusión por homicidio involuntario y por no respetar las normas de seguridad (Thébaud: 80).

Asimismo, sin ánimo de ser exhaustivo, en 1996 se inicia un proceso en Siracusa (Italia) contra los responsables suizos de cientos de trabajadores enfermados o muertos por la empresa Eternit. En 2005, a los nueve años, se condena a ocho antiguos patronos por homicidio. Entre ellos figura un hombre de confianza del riquísimo Schmidheiny, Léo Mittelholzer, que la había dirigido entre 1984 y 1986. Los acusados han sido condenados a veintiún años de prisión, tres por homicidio involuntario y cinco por negligencia voluntaria de medidas de seguridad sobre sus trabajadores. El fiscal ha declarado que “nunca un tribunal italiano había probado la culpabilidad de los jefes de empresa por negligencia voluntaria en las medidas de seguridad” (Thébaud: 79). Esto vuelve a contrastar claramente con la autobiografía del heredero suizo del amianto.

El problema de la ‘desamiantización’

Mejor antes que después, habrá que proceder a retirar adecuadamente y depositar de forma segura todo el amianto colocado en fábricas y hogares, porque no hay dosis inocua. Cualquier exposición puede dañar la salud. Y el tiempo, los accidentes, las obras, los meteoros, los terremotos, etc. deterioran tuberías, depósitos, tejados, y todas las instalaciones en las que exista este mineral.

Si tenemos en cuenta que desde 1906 a 2009 el amianto extraído para ser usado en el mundo es, aproximadamente, de unos 200 millones de toneladas (Roselli: 23) y que la tarea es delicada, especializada y costosa, es difícil cuantificar lo que va a costarnos mejorar la salud ambiental en este apartado. Los ciudadanos reclamamos que se aplique el principio “el que contamina paga”, por tanto proceder como se está haciendo en algunos países cargando el peso en el Estado es perdonar injustamente una deuda al cártel de Eternit, entre otros. En Casale Monferrato, una ciudad italiana de 37.000 habitantes, se han necesitado siete años para desmantelar parte de la fábrica de Schmidheiny, que abandonó en 1986 y que, vendidos los terrenos, no se considera responsable en este proceso de saneamiento. E igualmente, en los Países Bajos el coste de los trabajos de descontaminación se han estimado en 50 millones de euros, (Kazan-Allen: 10).

La fórmula de trasladar los desechos a los países empobrecidos, aparte de ser ilegal, es un nuevo crimen. Un ejemplo lo tenemos en el desguace de barcos que se realiza actualmente en la India, en la playa de Alang, en el estado de Goujarat. La Organización Marítima Internacional ha evaluado el mercado de desmantelamiento en 700 barcos militares y 4.500 mercantes, de los que, en 2002, han correspondido a la citada playa unos 264 navíos. Allí, unas 40.000 personas trabajan en condiciones extremas: de 15 a 16 horas, por uno o dos dólares al día, sin protección alguna contra el amianto y viviendo en barracas sin agua corriente.

Avina o la confusión intencional

¿Para qué Schmidheiny se introduce en la filantropía y funda Avina? Con el panorama descrito, es obvio que Schmidheiny tiene un enorme peso sobre sus espaldas, por mucho que las hagiografías fantasiosas circulen con profusión y sus cinco mil colaboradores lo propaguen como si fuera el filántropo verde.

Avina es creada en 1994, y según reza en su página web tiene como misión crear “alianzas fructíferas entre líderes sociales y empresariales para contribuir al desarrollo sostenible de América Latina”. Pero es en octubre de 2003 cuando se produce su momento cumbre. En esa fecha, en Costa Rica tiene lugar un encuentro con doscientos ilustres participantes en el que Stephan Schmidheiny anuncia que crea Viva Trust, un fideicomiso al que entrega parte de su fortuna en Latinoamérica, unos mil millones de dólares, concretada en el Grupo Nueva, que es un holding que comprende tres empresas: Amanco, Masisa y Plycem, y con cuyos rendimientos se financiará Avina. Entre los asistentes al acto se encuentran el presidente del Banco Mundial, el embajador de EEUU, el fundador y la presidenta de Ashoka, y el economista neoliberal, Hernando de Soto, entre otros.

Con Avina, al parecer, Schmidheiny se propone dos cosas. A título de gran capitalista, empujado cultural e institucionalmente, intenta seguir haciendo negocios en otros nichos, con los pobres, en la base de la pirámide. También legitimar el capitalismo con las ceremonias de responsabilidad social corporativa, desmontar la virulencia de los movimientos sociales anticapitalistas y de la muchedumbre de damnificados por el sistema. A título particular pretende protegerse del futuro amenazador que le espera.

Su condición de gran capitalista la cuenta él mismo. En su autobiografía (Mi visión, p.15) advierte de que cuando estaba en 1982 en Chile de vacaciones ese “estar de vacaciones no significa para mí ignorar oportunidades de negocio”. El negocio de Chile fue comprar a precio de saldo terrenos forestales que Pinochet regaló a los potentados, terrenos en gran parte formados por bienes comunes ancestrales de los mapuches (Puche, 2009, El caso Avina: 5).

Cómo opera Avina

Desde su fundación, Avina conecta con Ashoka, otra fundación del gran capital vinculada a la gran banca J.P. Morgan y a la consultora McKinsey, a partir de esa fecha hacen juntos su trabajo. Se pueden considerar como un tándem inseparable: una alianza estratégica como dicen ellas, en la que hay ideas, socios, financiación, medios y dirección comunes. “Ashoka no tiene un aliado más cercano o duradero que Avina”, declaraba Bill Drayton, fundador de Ashoka, en la web de Avina; en donde, además, se puede leer que “durante los últimos trece años (1994-2007) Avina ha invertido más de 28 millones de dólares en el crecimiento y consolidación de Ashoka”.

Uno de los socios destacados de Ashoka es Hernando de Soto, un economista neoliberal, ex asesor de Fujimore, y que propone la partición de los bienes comunales, convirtiéndolos en propiedades privadas para que entren en el circuito “virtuoso” del crédito, la deuda y la ideología empresarial competitiva.

Avina con la inseparable compañía de Ashoka tratan de buscar nuevos nichos de negocios y de ideas. Explícitamente afirman que “los pobres son el negocio de los negocios”. Por eso financian movimientos sociales y pagan líderes o emprendedores que traigan negocios. Schmidheiny dice en su autobiografía (p.36): para prestar su ayuda “la iniciativa presentada debe incluir un plan de negocios y objetivos y criterios muy concretos, que nos permitan evaluar su viabilidad y sus probabilidades de éxito”. Aunque parezca surrealista, pretende convertir a los movimientos sociales y ONGs en empresas y a sus líderes en empresarios, por supuesto capitalistas.

Esta cooptación de líderes sociales indefectiblemente provoca divisiones, desencuentros y desconfianzas en el seno de los movimientos sociales. Así ha sido en Latinoamérica, en el que Avina tiene como socio-líder destacado a Grobocopatel, rey de la soja transgénica en Argentina, y así está siendo en España, en donde han penetrado en muchas organizaciones de prestigio como en los movimientos en defensa del agua o el mundo rural, o en la de hombres por la igualdad de género, con sus “negocios asociados”, según los cánones de selección de estas fundaciones.

Asi pretenden lavar su imagen y aminorar las resistencias al capitalismo, adentrándose cual “caballitos de Troya” en las bases desde las que se construyen las resistencias y las alternativas. Las ONGs que cooptan les sirven para promover la responsabilidad social corporativa de las multinacionales, y el negocio de la misma extensible a las empresas de cualquier tamaño.

Las alianzas

Pero en el caso que nos ocupa, por la persecución judicial que Schmidheiny está sufriendo y la que está por venir, el citado filántropo pretende formular alianzas con lo poderosos para buscar amparo: multinacionales, otras fundaciones, iglesia católica y líderes sociales vectores de negocios y propagandistas de su persona.

En 1991, Schmidheiny funda el Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) “con el fin de proporcionar una perspectiva empresarial sobre el desarrollo sostenible durante la Cumbre de Río. El World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) se constituyó en 1995, como resultado de la fusión entre el BCSD y el World Industry Council for the Environment (WICE). El WBCSD hoy agrupa a las 170 empresas más importantes del mundo, unidas por una visión compartida acerca del desarrollo sostenible que se basa en tres pilares: el desarrollo económico, el equilibrio ambiental y el progreso social. El Consejo se propone promover el liderazgo empresarial como catalizador para el cambio hacia el desarrollo sostenible, basado en la eco-eficiencia, la innovación y la responsabilidad social corporativa” como cuenta él mismo en su página web:

Esta alianza con las mayores empresas del mundo la concluye con grandes fundaciones: Ashoka, Melinda y Bill Gates, Fundación Rockefeller, Coca-Cola Brasil y otras. Schmidheiny también se ha aliado con la Iglesia católica a través de la Compañía de Jesús. En el año 2000 concluye un acuerdo por el que se crea el centro Magis con tres fines: apoyo a la organización jesuítica Fe y Alegría, establecida en 14 países latinoamericanos, apoyo a la AUSJA, Asociación de Universidades jesuitas de América Latina, y apoyo a otras asociaciones varias. El Centro Magis tienen como función general, según dicen, “promover el desarrollo sostenible entre los pobres de América Latina”. Hasta el 2009 Avina ha contribuido con 22 millones de dólares, ¿A cambio de qué? A cambio de capilaridad, nichos de negocio e información y legitimidad.

Así las cosas, se produce un hecho sorprendente, el 14 de mayo de 2009 se anuncia el cierre de gran parte de la entidad y su reconversión. Esta fecha no es casual: el mes anterior comenzó en Turín el macrojuicio penal contra Stephan Schmidheiny demandado por cerca de tres mil víctimas del amianto en la región italiana del Piamonte. Para este juicio el fiscal ha iniciado las investigaciones en 2001 y las concluye en 2007. Pues bien en esa fecha Grupo Nueva, el grupo de empresas que alimenta financieramente a Avina, vende dos de las tres empresas de las que se nutre. Se puede leer en su página web: “En marzo y diciembre del 2007 se vendieron, respectivamente, las divisiones Amanco y The Plycem Company. Grupo Nueva es hoy controlador de Masisa”.

“Mientras Sthepan Schmidheiny, en Costa Rica en 2003, en presencia del embajador norteamericano y el del presidente del Banco Mundial, entre otros, constituía un fondo denominado Viva Trust para financiar la ya extinta Fundación AVINA, un ex-trabajador de su fábrica de Brasil, que había trabajado durante treinta y ocho años, le escribía por navidad de ese mismo año: “Nosotros los ex-colaboradores de Eternit Osasco, hemos trabajado ignorando los riesgos del amianto, con abnegación y el orgullo de construir el imperio del amianto cemento para vuestra familia Schmidheiny. ¿Pero qué hemos recibido a cambio? Una bomba de efectos retardados implantada en nuestros pulmones. Le adjunto una fotografía de los supervivientes de Osasco para ver si se le conmueve el corazón contemplando estos restos humanos en que han devenido vuestros viejos colaboradores de los tiempos dorados de Eternit. Le pedimos que ya que ha donado millones de dólares para obras filantrópicas, si estaría dispuesto a donar solamente algunos millones para la Asociación brasileña de las víctimas del amianto. (Firmado: Joao Francisco Grabenweger)”.

Los hechos narrados retiran la máscara filantrópica de Stephan Schmidheiny.

Los hechos aportados advierten a los cinco mil líderes y colaboradores de su fundación Avina y su homóloga Ashoka. Ya no pueden alegar ignorancia. Deben devolver el dinero recibido a las asociaciones de víctimas del amianto, esparcidas por todo el mundo: es lo que piden, es de justicia.

Toda la fortuna de los Schmidheiny debe ser destinada a resarcir los daños causados a los miles y miles de víctimas y a descontaminar el mundo a causa del amianto. No será suficiente.

“Ante esta situación hago un llamamiento para la creación de un Tribunal Penal Internacional del Trabajo, donde comparezcan y se diriman las responsabilidades de quienes convierten el trabajo en lugares de violencia, enfermedad y muerte”, ha pedido Ángel Cárcoba, de la comisión nacional de salud laboral del sindicato Comisiones Obreras. (Cárcoba, 2008).

Por mucho que lo intente, Stephan Schmidheiny no podrá desprenderse del polvo de amianto que le envuelve.



1966 – Primer proceso en EEUU contra John Mansville: ganan los trabajadores

1973 – Casale Monferrato- Italia- pasa del grupo belga al suizo hasta su cierre en 1986

1974 – Amenaza de prohibición del amianto en Suecia y Dinamarca

1974 – Forma parte del grupo de Eternit suiza, como jefe de ventas

1976 – Presidente del grupo Eternit suizo

1976 – Aprovechan el terremoto en Guatemala para vender amianto a los pobres

1976 – Reemplazan solo el nombre: “amianto-cemento” por el de “fibro-cemento”

1977 a 1979 – testimonio de que en la fábrica suiza se trabaja sin protección

1978 – Creación del lobby suizo ArbeitskreisAsbest para impedir declaración tóxico 1, no fue clasificado hasta 1987, diez años más tarde, diez años más de negocio.

1982 – Revista New Scientist revela cómo la industria en África del Sur impide la publicación de estudios sobre el amianto y la salud

1983 – Condenas judiciales en Italia a Eternit, por homicidios por negligencia.

1983 – Muere el marido de Romana Blasotti, la presidenta de la asociación de víctimas

1984 – Recibe en herencia el grupo Eternit suizo del amianto. Su hermano el cemento

1984 – Max Schmidheiny (el padre) arremete contra Selikoff, el científico molesto

1985 – El grupo suizo y belga controlan el 25% de producción mundial de amianto-cemento

1986 – Cierra Casale Monferrato: no desamiantiza ni paga todas las indemnizaciones.

1989 – Prohibición en Suiza; vende su parte en las sociedades el grupo belga, a su hermano la parte suiza, al grupo francés la fábrica de Osasco Brasil, no la mina.

1990 – Vende la empresa alemana (la que colaboró con el nazismo) al grupo belga Etex

1992 – Vende en África del Sur, minas y fábricas que han operado durante los 50 años del apartheid y con su legislación. Construyeron las townsvilles con amianto

1992 – Funda el BCSD con las 50 multinacionales más poderosas: lavado imagen

1993 – Condena a Parodi, Presidente Eternit en Italia, a tres años

1994 – Crea la Fundación filantrópica AVINA: para aliar líderes sociales con empresas: llega a tener 1.000 socios-líderes en Latinoamérica y 4000 colaboradores

1996 – Se inicia un proceso en Siracusa contra Eternit suiza

1998 – Eternit demanda a F. Giannasi por difamación. Recibe amenazas muerte

1998 – Expropian la mina brasileña de Goiás, en la que participaba con la empresa SAMA, junto al grupo francés.

2000 – Brasil. Primer Congreso mundial contra el amianto. F. Giannasi lo promueve

2001 – El fiscal Guariniello (Turín) abre investigación contra Eternit en Suiza, por homicidios

2003 – Octubre. Creación de VIVA trust para financiar Avina con Amanco y Masisa

2003 – Thomas vende el grupo suizo. La familia cumple 83 años en el amianto.

2004 – Casale Monferrato. Muere la hija de Romana Blasotti: quinto familiar por el amianto en 21 años

2004 – Eternit condenada en Brasil por 2.500 víctimas

2004 – Interpelación sobre el amianto para adaptar la ley al Consejo federal suizo, donde se sienta una antiguo presidente del holding Anova de SS: rechazado

2005 – Fin del proceso de Siracusa. Condena a Hittelhorzer, hombre de confianza de SS, a 2 años y 4 meses. Dirigió la fábrica entre 1984 y 1986, periodo de SS.

2007 – Vende Amanco, propietaria de Nicalit (amianto) a grupo mexicano, y Plycen. Liquidación parcial del Viva trust

2009 – Mayo, cierre parcial de Avina.

2009 – Diciembre, Juicio penal de Turín contra SS: piden 13 años y 5 mil millones €.

Países en los que está prohibido el uso el amianto (52)

Datos del comercio internacional del asbesto (2008)

Paco puche – Librero y ecologista – España – 18/05/10 – Colaboración para revista El Observador


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Video: Vermiculite Insulation Containing Asbestos Dangers And Warnings (July 2022).


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