Report from Asian Ban Asbestos Mission to Brazil April, 2019 

May 1, 2019 in ABAN

Brazil is now at a critical moment in the campaign to ban asbestos. In the aftermath of the November 2017 Supreme court decision declaring the commercial exploitation of asbestos unconstitutional, asbestos vested interests have been exploiting a variety of measures, including political pressure, legal actions and media campaigns, to derail efforts to shut down the industry. Eternit – the company which owns the remaining asbestos mine in Brazil – announced its intention in January 2019 to increase asbestos exports to industrializing countries in Asia.

This week, a delegation (Delegation) arrived in Brazil to challenge the hypocrisy of exporting a substance to Asia which has been deemed too dangerous to use in Brazil. The Asian Ban Asbestos Mission to Brazil 2019 is composed of 5 delegates – from Japan, India and Indonesia. To accompany their arrival a dossier for the press containing details of their backgrounds and supporting information, has been prepared (veja também, versão em Portugues).

I am in Brazil as an observer to the Mission and will be preparing regular updates to detail the activities and interactions of the delegates.

April 23. The Delegation arrived in Brasilia from Sao Paulo at midday and had the opportunity to meet with experts from the law firm of Mauro Menezes & Associates who have been progressing personal injury lawsuits, collective actions and legal challenges against the federal government’s “safe use of asbestos” policy.

There was a valuable exchange during which Mission members presented statistical information and related the deadly impact of asbestos use in their countries. The legal team explained the current situation including news that the mining company had just announced that, without prompt action by the Supreme Court to allow mining to continue, Eternit would close the mine with the loss of more than 300 jobs.

Following this meeting, the Mission members were invited to the Federal Labor High Court to meet Justice Lelio Bentes Correa, who oversees the ethical and legal behaviour of all the labor courts in the country. Justice Correa, who was a member of the ILO Expert Committee, listened with great interest to the reports from Japan, India and Indonesia and was outspoken in his comments, arguing that people in Asia had the same right to life as Brazilians: “There are no borders concerning human rights or the dignity of workers around the world.” At the end of a 90 minute meeting, he pledged his support of the Mission’s objectives. Thanking Justice Correa, Mission head Sugio Furuya presented him with a copy of the Mission banner.


Mission members and Mission hosts, Fernanda Giannasi (left) and Eliezer João de Souza (right), with Justice Correa (second from right).

April 24, 08:30. Mission members went to the Russian Embassy in Brasilia to deliver a copy of an open letter to parties at COP 9 of the Rotterdam Convention (смотри также, Русская версия) to the Russian Ambassador. Needless to say, the head of the Mission, Sugio Furuya and the Mission’s hosts from ABREA did not get past the gate. Nevertheless, they handed in the letter and mounted an impromptu demonstration outside the embassy.


Mission members and ABREA hosts Eliezer João de Souza and Fernanda Giannasi (in the middle) outside the Russian Embassy in Brasilia April 24, 2019 after delivering letter for the Russian Ambassador.

April 24, 10:00. Upon leaving the Russian embassy, the Delegation visited the offices of Mauro Menezes & Associates to prepare filmed interviews for distribution via various social media platforms. As the work on this was proceeding, we learned that on April 25 a TV crew was planning to go to Minaçu, the city where Brazil’s remaining asbestos mine is located, and that school children had been given the day off so that they could be present at the mine to support calls by the Mayor of Minaçu for the mining of asbestos to continue for another 150 years.

12:00 The Delegation went to Three Powers Square in the heart of Brasilia to demonstrate. Banners and posters were exhibited at three locations with backdrops showing the buildings representing the executive, legislative and judicial powers in Brazil.


Mission members demonstrating in Three Powers Square in front of a memorial paying tribute to the workers who built Brasilia.

14:30. Federal Deputy Vicentinho from the PT (the Workers’ Party) received the Delegation in his office in the Chamber of Deputies. As the former President of CUT, Brazil’s biggest trade union, he was well aware of the asbestos hazard and had been a long-term supporter of ABREA. He was particularly interested in the report by trade union activist Rajkamal Tewary from Kolkata, India.

Upon completion of the meeting, Vicentinho walked with the Delegation members through a subway which connects Annex IV with the Senate building. The Delegation was welcomed into the reception room of the President of the Chamber of Federal Deputies; its members were introduced by Federal Deputy Vicentinho to Helio Vitor Ramos Filho, an ambassador who is one of the advisors to the President of the Chamber of Deputies. Sugio Furuya explained the Mission’s objectives and a copy of the briefing document was given to him which he agreed to pass on to the President.

16:00. Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber, the rapporteur on the asbestos litigation, met with the Delegation in the “White Room” of the court – an antechamber where Justices take coffee breaks.

She explained the immense pressure being brought on the court by mining stakeholders to allow production to continue for another ten years. In addition to the comments by Delegation members, Justice Weber heard from ABREA’s Fernanda Giannasi who described the export of Brazilian asbestos to Asia as “environmental racism.”


Mission members with Justice Rosa Weber.

17:00. Leaving the Supreme Court, Delegation members travelled to the headquarters of the Federal Public Ministry where they met two federal prosecutors specialising in environmental cases. Prosecutors, civil servants working in an independent branch of the government, represent the interests of Brazilian citizens and collaborate with Supreme Court Justices in an advisory role. Evidence is, we were told, currently being accumulated, relating to the litigation seeking an extension for export-oriented asbestos production.

18:30. The Delegation returned to the Supreme Court for a meeting with Jose Antonio Deas Toffoli, the President of the Supreme Court. Discussions began with Joel Souza Pinto Sampaio, Chief Advisor for International Affairs, who heard introductory remarks by Sugio Furuya and brief statements by Delegation members. President Deas Toffoli arrived and was brought up to speed by Mr. Sampaio. The President explained how the Court worked and explained that each Justice makes his own decision without consultation with the others. The asbestos case was under review but there was no date yet set for when the decision would be made. The arrival of the Delegation had come, the President said, at an opportune moment and its input would be valuable to the process.


Delegation with Supreme Court President Jose Antonio Deas Toffoli.

Discussions proceeded about the lack of health and safety measures throughout workplaces in India and Indonesia and the President watched a short clip filmed at an asbestos-cement factory in Kolkata, India in June 2018 showing workers processing and handling asbestos in extremely hazardous conditions. The sacks of asbestos shown in the film came from SAMA, Brazil’s only asbestos producer; the warnings written on them were in Portuguese and English and not in Hindi or other local languages.

April 25, 09:30. The Delegation returned to the headquarters of the Federal Public Ministry for a morning meeting with Eliana Peres Torelly de Carvalho, the Federal Circuit Prosecutor who has been working on asbestos issues since 2002. She explained that prosecutors were currently gathering data on asbestos to present to Raquel Dodge, the Madame General Prosecutor of the Republic who will next week be submitting her advice to Justice Rosa Weber. She confirmed that asbestos vested interests had been persistent in lobbying for an indefinite extension to allow mining to continue. Having listened to submissions by Delegation members, including their pleas for a total ban on Brazilian asbestos exports, she agreed: “What is not good for Brazil is not good for the rest of the world.”


Delegation members with Federal Circuit Prosecutor Eliana Peres de Carvalho

13:00. Delegation members returned to Sao Paolo where, in the run-up to International Workers Memorial Day, a new round of activities will begin on April 26

Commenting on the Mission’s activities in Brasilia, Sugio Furuya said:

“Delegation members were grateful for the attention they received from the Supreme Court Justices, the politicians, the federal prosecutors, the civil servants, the legal experts and the other individuals they met during their brief stay in Brasilia. It is very clear that asbestos stakeholders are exerting pressure on the Supreme Court and are using every available means to do so. We hope that the message delivered by the Asian Ban Asbestos Mission to Brazil 2019 will reinforce the Court’s obligation not only to protect Brazilians but also to consider the fate of Indians and Indonesians, when they decide whether or not to allow asbestos exports to continue.”

April 26, 09:00. The Delegation was invited to a breakfast reception by the Mayor of Osasco Rogerio Lins, who was represented by the Secretary of Development, Work and Inclusion Elsa Oliveira. During the gathering, Delegation members explained the reason for the Mission to Brazil and exhibited some of the Mission’s banners and material.


Municipal welcoming committee accompanying Secretary Elsa Oliveira.

10:30. Secretary Elsa Oliveira invited the group to visit the site in Osasco where a memorial to asbestos victims will be erected. The proposed location of the monument was highly significant as it was across the street from where the headquarters of the Eternit asbestos group used to be. This area of the city had been dominated by the company’s offices and asbestos-cement factory, the largest in Latin America. Secretary Elsa announced that Osasco City Council had just approved funding for the memorial and that construction would begin soon.


Secretary Elsa Oliveira announcing funding allocation approved by the Council for the memorial.

Demonstration on the site of new memorial to asbestos victims.

11:00. Delegation members joined ABREA at an outreach project in a busy downtown area of Osasco. As shoppers walked by the colorful ABREA stand, ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza and others spoke about the town’s deadly asbestos legacy and distributed material advising citizens on how to protect themselves and their families. Delegation members were invited to address the public and exhibit their banners; a lot of photographs were taken!


Delegation members at public demonstration in Osasco city center with ABREA members.

Raghunath Manavar greeting Osasco citizens.

16:00. An event at the Chamber of Deputies of Sao Paulo State provided the opportunity for Delegation members to inform politicians, members of ABREA, students and others about the reality of asbestos use in India, Indonesia and throughout Asia. Delegation members urged Brazilians to support a ban on exports of asbestos.


Sugio Furuya making his presentation.

Siti Kristina addressing the meeting.

Firman Budiawan speaking at the meeting.

Group photo of the Delegation and ABREA friends.

Commenting on the reaction to the Delegation’s participation in the meeting, longtime ABREA supporter Elena Giannasi said:

“It was clear that ABREA members responded with interest to the presentations of the Delegation. ABREA members know very well the price paid by workers for the asbestos industry’s profits.”

ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza pledged the support of the association for the campaign to stop asbestos exports to Asia.

During the meeting a book was launched entitled “Eternidade,” which detailed the struggle by Brazil’s asbestos victims to achieve justice for the injured, promote medical research and campaign for a national asbestos ban. Individual chapters focused on grassroots mobilization in Osasco and Sao Caetano do Sul (Sao Paulo state), Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba and Londrina (Parana), Goias, Recife (Pernambuco), Pedro Leopoldo (Minas Gerais), Simoes Filho e Bom Jesus da Serra (Bahia). The presence at the meeting of ABREA members from many of these cities emphasized the importance of this book to them as did the long queue for autographs by the book’s author Marina Moura.

Although Delegation members were exhausted after another long day, they were extremely grateful for the opportunity to communicate their message to so many Brazilian citizens and were looking forward to the final meetings on April 27 and 28.

April 27, 09:00. The Delegation attended a 4 hour meeting held at the headquarters of the Metalworkers Union in Osasco. The event to mark International Workers Memorial Day was supported by eight unions and addressed a wide range of issues affecting workers’ health and safety. Individual testimonies by injured workers highlighted the everyday dangers faced by Brazilian workers.


(Photo: Inacio Teixeira of the Association of Asbestos-Exposed Victims and their Families [Associação das Vítimas Contaminadas pelo Amianto e Famílias Expostas – AVICAFE])

Delegation members were invited to take part in the asbestos session of the meeting with their colleagues from ABREA. Mission chief Sugio Furuya explained the reasons for the Delegation’s visit to Brazil and asked for the support of union members in the fight to stop asbestos exports from Brazil.


(Photo: Inacio Teixeira of the Association of Asbestos-Exposed Victims and their Families [Associação das Vítimas Contaminadas pelo Amianto e Famílias Expostas – AVICAFE])

April 28, 09:00. The Delegation went to the Aquilino Alves dos Santos square in Osasco for the annual ecumenical service to remember ABREA colleagues who had died from asbestos related diseases. The square is located in the Bela Vista neighbourhood of Osasco which used to be home to many Eternit workers. Aquilino Alves dos Santos was an Eternit employee who died of peritoneal mesothelioma in 1995. He was the first ABREA member to die after the group was formed. Today, the public space in this square was decorated with pictures of ABREA members who had also died and with banners supplied by Mission members as well as colorful posters.

As a watermelon truck drove by with the vender hawking his wares, ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza asked everyone to introduce themselves. There were asbestos-exposed workers, some ill, some not, widows, grieving children, and ABREA supporters, including former politicians and trade unionists who had been engaged in the asbestos struggle for many years. People representing different religions offered prayers for the injured and for their families.

Sugio Furuya thanked ABREA for the warm welcome it had extended to the Delegation and pledged to continue to fight for asbestos justice in Asia and around the world.

All told, Sugio Furuya, Raghunath Manavar, Rajkamal Tweary, Firman Budiawan and Siti Kristina (the Delegation) travelled ~79,000 miles to take their message to Brazil: Stop sending asbestos to Asia. While the focus of the discussions in Brasilia had been about politics, procedures and process, in Sao Paulo and Osasco the emphasis was on the personal: the price paid by human beings for asbestos exposures. ABREA’s ecumenical service on April 28, 2019 was the perfect ending to the Mission; the pictures displayed around the square named after the first ABREA victim to die, refocused attention on the individuals who had been lost. Honoring them, we remembered their counterparts in Asia and all over the world who had suffered at the hands of the asbestos industry.

Commenting on the Mission as a whole, Sugio Furuya said:

“It has been a long week, but the interactions we have had with a wide spectrum of Brazilian stakeholders have been very productive. I strongly believe that the Supreme Court will in due course confirm that its ruling banning the commercial exploitation of asbestos includes a ban on the mining of asbestos for export. Our time with ABREA colleagues and the solidarity which exists between us, will continue to motivate us for years to come.”

April 29, 2019