Rehabilitating the Image of Corporate Killers 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



“Sportswashing” is the latest weapon in the arsenal of tricks wielded by asbestos conglomerates to decontaminate corporate names sullied by decades of wanton behavior, workforce deaths and environmental crimes. In Oceania, Europe and Latin America former and current asbestos companies are attempting to restore their brands by a public relations sleight of hand attaching their name to that of a popular team or sporting event.

An announcement made last week by an Australian rugby team based in the Greater Western Sydney region attracted condemnation from asbestos victims. Under a four-year deal starting next year, James Hardie (JH) – the Australian asbestos building products’ manufacturer nicknamed the Killer Company – will be renewing “a historic partnership” with the Parramatta Eels, a team which won four premierships during the 1980s with JH as its major sponsor.1


JH Branding on Parramatta Eels 1980s Strip.

Not only did JH condemn generations of Parramata workers to early graves but it left widespread environmental asbestos contamination throughout the city.2 Commenting on the news of the sponsorship deal, a spokesperson for New South Wales asbestos victims said:

“I think it's outrageous…To see the name Hardie on these football jumpers will trigger in some families’ memories of loved ones that have died from being exposed to these James Hardie products.”

Echoing these comments, local man Tony Khoury – whose father-in-law died from an asbestos-related disease – urged the Parramatta Eels to reconsider:

“If not, the many victims of asbestos and any surviving family members will continually be reminded of the tragic issues associated with asbestos… [For Parramatta] to want to relive those glory days (in the 80s) now knowing what we know is a shameful decision…Why isn't the National Rugby league doing something?”

In the UK, asbestos victims have been fighting a battle against the Altrad Group, current owners of the UK’s second largest asbestos conglomerate, Cape PLC, for over two years. 3 Even as the French industrial services provider continued to ignore the UK-wide “Cape Must Pay”4 campaign, Altrad announced that it was sponsoring national teams at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in Paris.5


New Zealand Rugby Team with the Altrad logo on their shirts 2023.

Commenting on this decision, the Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum UK (AVSGF) Rob Rayner said:

“Cape’s asbestos products are responsible for many deaths. As Cape’s parent company Altrad has a moral obligation to put right some of the wrong that has been done. Altrad is a global brand, and a major sponsor of the French and New Zealand rugby teams. It is incomprehensible that they cannot find £10 million for mesothelioma research. In the eyes of asbestos victims, Altrad’s sponsorship of the French and New Zealand rugby teams is an insult, both to the sport and to the fans.”6

In Brazil, former asbestos producer Brasilit Saint Gobain is sponsoring the 2024 “Copa do Brasil” – the highly prestigious and valuable national knock-out football competition keenly watched by Brazilian fans for whom the sport is a quasi-religion.


In doing so the Brasilit Saint Gobain company is following in the steps of Eternit, Brazil’s largest asbestos conglomerate and the owner of the only Brazilian asbestos mine still in production. For years, the sponsorship of football championships in the States of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul has been a key part of Eternit’s marketing strategy. According to Eternit’s Marketing and Sales Manager Gabriel Pontes: “Associating the brand with a sport that arouses such strong emotions is a very interesting way to keep Eternit in the memory of every Brazilian family.”7


Historical photo of Osasco indoor football team sponsored by Eternit.

The people in the companies who sign off on the sponsorship deals might do well to consider how they would feel if the patients in the cancer wards were members of their own families. Surely donations to medical research into the diseases caused by the operations of their factories should have first call on surplus funds. These donations would not absolve the guilty parties of historic and current crimes but they would be a significant gesture on the path to restitution, rehabilitation and redemption.

June 3, 2024


1 Spotlight on Sponsors: Eels Latest Deal Leaves NRL Fans Divided. May 31, 2024.
Parramatta Eels urged by asbestos sufferers to drop James Hardie sponsorship. May 30, 2024.

2 The first JH asbestos-using production facility was located five kilometers east of Parramatta; Hardie ran the plant between 1957 and 1983.
Kembrey, M. Plans to use former James Hardie asbestos factory site for apartments in Camellia. August 6, 2015.
City of Parramata. Asbestos. James Hardie Legacy Sites. Accessed June 1, 2024.

3 Kazan-Allen, L. 125 Years and Counting. February 16, 2024.

4 AVSGF. Cape Must Pay!

5 Altrad. Rugby Partnerships. Defining a Legacy, Through Rugby. Accessed June 1, 2024.

6 Joint Press Release. Victims Denounce “Sportswashing,” Demanding Corporate Accountability. September 8, 2023.

7 Campeonatos estaduais viram ferramenta de marketing para a Eternit [State championships become a marketing tool for Eternit]. October 13, 2015.
Eternit investe em marketing esportivo e aposta no futebol brasileiro [Eternit invests in sports marketing and bets on Brazilian football]. 2016.



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