Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Yale University rescinded comedian Bill Cosby's honorary degree for sexual assault but not of Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny for asbestos related deaths: Dr. Barry Castleman

Dr. Barry Castleman, the renowned author of Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects has been interviewed in a recent issue of Corporate Crime Reporter about the criminal prosecution of the Eternit asbestos billionaire in the Italian courts in the backdrop of the upcoming verdict in Stephan Schmidheiny's murder trial of over 392 people who died from mesothelioma on June 7, 2023 in Novara, Italy.  In the interview, he has discussed the greenwashing of Schmidheiny's image by the 300 years old Yale University which awarded him an honorary degree in 1996. The University is putting its own integrity at stake although Schmidheiny never went to study in Yale University. The only time he showed up there was when he got the honorary degree.

Yale University refuses to even show the courtesy of a response to the request by the asbestos families and victims (AFeVA) in Casale Monferrato for Yale University to return of all gifts from Stephan Schmidheiny under Yale University's official policy on the acceptance and return of gifts.  

In the interview, he has revealed that in its 300 year old history, Yale University never cancelled an honorary degree after it has been awarded. But it reversed its policy after it rescinded its honorary degree given to comedian Bill Cosby who was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting a Temple University employee in his home. Consequently, “The Yale University board of trustees voted to rescind the honorary degree awarded to William H. Cosby Jr. in 2003,” the university said in a statement in May 2018. “The decision is based on a court record providing clear and convincing evidence  of conduct that violates fundamental standards of decency shared by all members of the Yale community, conduct that was unknown to the board at the time the degree was awarded. The board took this decision following Mr. Cosby’s criminal conviction after he was afforded due process.”

But when it comes to Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, Yale University is yet to rescind an honorary degree given to Schmidheiny in 1996 despite the ten year old call by hundreds of asbestos victims from Italy to rescind it. In 2012, Schmidheiny was convicted in Italy of causing the deaths of 3,000 Italians in the area of the town of Casale Monferrato, a conviction that was later thrown out on appeal after the defense made the argument that the prosecution was barred by the statute of limitations.

So far Yale University has stood by the honorary degree given to Schmidheiny who is facing another criminal prosecution for the deaths of Italians. The verdict in the case is on t eh horizon. The victims of asbestos related diseases want Yale University to not only rescind the honorary degree, but to return money given to Yale University by Schmidheiny affiliated foundations. In an October 2022 letter to Yale, an association of victims from the Casale Monferrato region called on Yale to return the donations and revoke the honorary degree. The letter said, "“Our community, Casale Monferrato, in northern Italy, has been decimated by the pollution from a giant asbestos cement products manufacturing plant that operated almost 80 years and closed suddenly in 1986,” they wrote. “The Chief Executive Officer of the Eternit multinational enterprise starting in 1976 was young Stephan Schmidheiny, whose family partially owned Eternit.” It added, “In the 1980s, Italian prosecutors had charged Italian Eternit executives with creating an environmental disaster causing the deaths of thousands and thousands of residents and employees in the town and neighboring municipalities.”. The victims stated that “As it became clear that Schmidheiny himself could be charged, and countries started banning asbestos, the asbestos billionaire sold and closed asbestos plants and mines all over the world and since then skillfully and stubbornly desperately sought rebranding. He donated to conservation groups in Brazil.” It has been noted that his book Changing Course in 1992, as chairman of the newly announced Business Council for Sustainable Development was endorsed by James Gustave Speth, environmental law professor at Yale University.

Dr. Castleman states that “Along with Yale alumnus and environmental lawyer Frances Beinecke, whose family’s philanthropy is memorialized in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Reilly and Speth prevailed in getting Yale to grant Schmidheiny an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1996.”  It is ironical that “Yale honored Schmidheiny specifically for his ‘stewardship of the global environment’ as ‘one of the world’s most environmentally conscious business leaders.’ Schmidheiny’s Avina Foundation’s financial contributions to some Yale programs on sustainable development were acknowledged in press releases at the time.” 

He says, “When closing down his dangerous plants in the 1980s, multi-billionaire Schmidheiny faced a very serious, very obvious question: am I going to spend money on making these sites safer or am I just going to abandon them as they are, exposing the local populations to horrendous health risks?”  He observes, “At that time, and at every moment thereafter, he made a deliberate choice against doing the responsible thing, against cleaning up the mess from which his family had earned a vast fortune, and in favor of greenwashing, in favor of buying himself a reputation as an environmentalist.” 

He feels that “In this way, Yale’s deeply defective gift policy directly contributed to thousands of deaths Schmidheiny caused and which are still occurring around the world. Yale sold Schmidheiny a comfortable escape from his responsibility to the people of Casale Monferrato and the other devastated communities.” He points out that “These communities were sold out not merely by Stephan Schmidheiny, but also by Yale.” 

I a significant development, “Starting in 2013, the town of Casale was joined by Yale alumni in a campaign to get Yale to rescind its honorary degree to Stephan Schmidheiny." Their letter states, “We are writing to ask that Yale rescind the honorary degree awarded to Schmidheiny and return all of his gifts from the 1990s to the present having seen the new information available.” But Yale University is refusing to respond to the letter of the victims of asbestos related diseases. 

When asked by Corporate Crime Reporter whether Yale University would revoke the honorary degree to Schmidheiny and return the funds, Yale spokesperson Karen Peart wrote: “Yale awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Stephan Schmidheiny for his advocacy of sustainable economic growth and development. The decision to award this degree was made by a committee in 1996” but did not respond to the letter from the victims calling on Yale to revoke the degree and return the money.

Dr Castelam says, “This has been going on for ten years now. One of the things they told us initially is that they have never taken back an honorary degree and they have been giving honorary degrees since the 1700s. And then Bill Cosby got nailed for sexual assault and they took his honorary degree back in a heartbeat. At the time, we asked – why are you taking back Bill Cosby’s honorary degree but not a man whose business resulted in the deaths of people?”

There was a letter of support sent by nineteen Yale alumni led by a medical expert on asbestos in the United States in October 2022 but Yale has not responded as yet. 



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