by Eliane Brum

Victims launch an international offensive to revoke the titles and awards of billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, former owner of the Swiss Eternit Group. In Brazil, they are focusing on the Order of the Southern Cross, granted to him by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso

If it is up to asbestos victims, 2014 may be the worst year in the life of Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny. They are getting ready to open another front in the struggle to ban the carcinogenic fiber. This time, they are looking at something perhaps more valuable than the actual fortune of the businessman whose family founded the Swiss Eternit Group. Throughout the 20th century, the industrial group planted factories around the world and through them sowed fatal diseases such as asbestosis (known as “stone lung”) and mesothelioma (the so-called “asbestos cancer”). Now, the target of patients and their families is the intangible property to which the Swiss [tycoon] devoted much money, battalions of marketers and his greatest efforts: his biography.

In Brazil, lawyers of the Brazilian Association of People Exposed to Asbestos (ABREA) plan to revoke the prestigious Order of the Southern Cross, granted to the Swiss billionaire by then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1996. The offensive is part of an international strategy of asbestos victims, led by Italian representatives. Since last year, the Italian organization AFEVA (Association of Relatives and Victims of Asbestos) has been pressuring Yale University, in the United States, to revoke the honorary doctorate of humane letters also granted to Schmidheiny in 1996. In Venezuela and Costa Rica, similar initiatives are being organized to pressure institutions that have granted him awards. The goal is to revoke one by one the titles and awards cited by the billionaire in his official biography. For each honor there is a group of victims organizing to press for its annulment. “We are not interested in destroying a human being, but in the search for the truth. And the truth is that there is no honor in the conduct of Mr. Schmidheiny,” wrote Bruno Pesce, coordinator of the AFEVA to the Yale University administration.

Stephan Schmidheiny is a tragic character in the contemporary world. For part of humanity he is a villain, for the other part a hero. During the 1990s, he was extremely careful to construct a biography that could erase – or at least obfuscate – his role as protagonist in what is known as “the greatest health catastrophe of the 20th century”: of the tens of thousands of deaths around the world due to asbestos contamination, a significant number occurred within his family’s Swiss Eternit factories or within a few kilometers from them. Read more

Courtesy: International Ban Asbestos Sectretariat