Brazilian Asbestos Victims Demonstrate on Workers’ Memorial Day 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



With cries of “Remember the dead, fight for the living,” thousands of Brazilian workers took to the streets on April 28, 2003, Workers’ Memorial Day, to demand justice for Brazil’s asbestos victims. The target of this year’s demonstration was the French multinational Saint Gobain which employs 173,000 workers in 47 counties; the company has been operating in Brazil since 1937. Even though the use of asbestos by Saint Gobain has been banned in Europe, it continues to trade in and profit from its asbestos subsidiaries in Brazil and other developing countries. The demonstration took place outside the gates of Saint-Gobain’s Santa Marina facility in São Paulo.

Engineer Fernanda Giannasi, the Latin American Coordinator of the Virtual-Citizen Ban Asbestos Network, and one of the organisers of the event said: “Compensation paid by Saint Gobain to European asbestos victims is vastly superior to that being offered to Brazilians. In fact, the amount on offer in Brazil is so small as to be derisory. The difference between the behaviour in the first world and developing world is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated. ”

Hundreds of workers, activists and trade unionists participated in the demonstration which began at 5 a.m. in front of Saint Gobain’s local factory. As it was still dark, the demonstrators brought candles which were placed on a symbolic black coffin labelled “Jean Claude Breffort (Saint Gobain Group).” Affixed to the front of the coffin was a picture of Breffort, Saint Gobain’s General Delegate to Brazil and Argentina.


Members of ABREA, the national asbestos victims group, were joined at the demonstration by members of the Glass Workers Union, the union representing many Saint-Gobain employees, and scores of activists from other social movements. Most of the demonstrators wore black tee shirts with a $ logo and statistics of workplace injuries and diseases emblazoned on front and back . The event, watched closely by the police called to the site by the company, was well-covered by the media.

The efforts of the Brazilian demonstrators were supported by French employees of Saint-Gobain who deplore the continuing use of asbestos in poor countries and call for a global ban on asbestos. Thierry Logeon, Alain Longuent and Dirk Foster, members of Saint Gobain’s delegation to the European Social Dialogue, have called on the management of Saint-Gobain to “terminate their demand, processing or installation of asbestos and/or asbestos containing materials.” In a letter of support to their Brazilian colleagues, the French workers also note: “It is possible to use substitutes as is proved in Europe and North America. It is an obligation of Saint Gobain to respect and protect the health and the life of humans, in the European Union, in Brazil or elsewhere!”


April 30, 2003



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