Avina’s position on the mining and use of asbestos.

Avina was founded in 1994 by Stephan Schmidheiny, a pioneering entrepreneur who, starting in the 1970s, led the global shift to eliminate the use of asbestos until he left the industry completely in the late 1980s. In line with the history and commitment of its founder, Avina is openly against the continued use of asbestos in any industry. Public authorities in every nation should approve rules and regulations prohibiting the production and use of asbestos, along with measures to protect the rights of victims affected by it and to make reparations for the negative effects caused by its use.

1.Within the ethical framework of Fundación Avina’s work in Latin America since 1994, the organization supports initiatives to globally eliminate the production of asbestos. Current scientific knowledge leaves no room for doubt when it comes to the extent of the human tragedy caused by the mining and processing of asbestos.

2.Inspired by the pioneering work of its founder to eliminate the use of asbestos, Avina considers it important to communicate its position on the extraction and industrialization of this toxic mineral that persist to this day.

About asbestos

3.Asbestos is a mineral found in nature in the form of fibers that are highly durable, waterproof, and fire resistant. Its characteristics made it a raw material of great interest to industry with a wide variety of potential applications in construction, soundproofing, insulation, and textiles.

4.Studies on the health effects of asbestos had been carried out over the years and in the 1990s researchers definitively confirmed that asbestos had a causal relationship with a series of illnesses including asbestosis (pulmonary fribrosis), lung cancer, mesothelioma (pleural and peritonial cancer), laryngeal cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer, which appear between 20 and 30 years after the time of exposure. Research confirms that these illnesses affect both workers exposed to asbestos as well as their families, who inhale asbestos fibers suspended in the air and present on clothing and tools, even after these have been transported over long distances.

5.Historically, the precautions taken to address the hazards of asbestos sought to reduce the level of exposure through workplace safety and hygiene programs. Despite these efforts, unsafe handling of asbestos continued as there was not scientific certainty as to the level of exposure that would not pose a risk to human health. Worldwide pressure on the industries that previously and currently use asbestos to recognize thousands of victims, along with the development of new synthetic fibers that have similar properties, point to the conclusion that the banning of asbestos is the best decision in ecological, economic, and ethical terms.

6.Despite this, in 2/3 of nations, the majority of them developing countries, asbestos is still mined, industrialized, and used in many cases without any type of regulation or oversight.


Stephan Schmidheiny, pioneer in the fight against asbestos

7.In 1976, at 29 years of age, Stephan Schmidheiny, the founder of Avina, inherited the Swiss Eternit Group, a company involved in the construction industry and one of the many companies in the industry to use asbestos in its products.

8.At the helm of Eternit Suiza, Schmidheiny became a global pioneer when he decided to invest in research to find materials to replace asbestos, working with German and Japanese companies and eventually developing and applying a component made of paper pulp. At the same time, Schmidheiny adopted additional workplace safety measures for the handling of asbestos in order to limit workers’ exposure to levels that were generally believed to be safe in the 1970s.

9.Eight years before the International Labor Organization (ILO) released a set of workplace safety recommendations called “Safety in the Use of Asbestos” in 1984, Stephan Schmidheiny’s companies had already applied such recommendations in their plants, and by that year, Eternit had already replaced asbestos with substitute materials in 50% of its production.

10.The costs associated with the research and development of substitute materials, the intense risk mitigation measures implemented in their plants, and the lack of consesus among other industry leaders that refused to make similar investments affected the competitiveness of Stephan Schmidheiny’s companies. They became economically unsustainable and many were shut down. Schmidheiny left the asbestos industry completely in 1989 when he sold all of his shares in Eternit companies across the world.

11.Schmidheiny’s exit from the industry was marked by the development of a program to provide health care support for victims exposed to asbestos in plants that were under his responsibility. More than 50 million euros were invested in this program.

12.Stephan Schmidheiny has gone on to invest in different types of companies and philanthropic activities to address global issues, and he has become a leader in environmental and social issues, working together with other key leaders from social movements, the private sector, and the United Nations.


Avina’s perspective on asbestos

13.Avina believes that a situation of this nature must be faced by organized society, governments, the private sector, and the scientific community, approching the challenges and the search for solutions in a manner defined by shared responsibilities, legal, social, and economic obligations, and human rights.

14.Avina must continue to align itself with the international community that defends the protection of human beings and the planet. Asbestos is a global problem that demands urgent action to be implemented on different fronts, undertaken jointly by industry, governments, and the social sector.

15.Avina’s point of view is that public authorities in every nation should approve rules and regulations prohibiting the production and use of asbestos, along with measures to protect the rights of victims affected by it and to make reparations for the negative effects caused by its use.

16.Inspired by the ethical commitment of its founder, Stephan Schmidheiny, a global pioneer in the fight against asbestos, Avina is openly against the continued use of asbestos in any industry that exposes people to this carcinogenic substance.

17.Acting independently and autonomously since its founding, Fundación Avina has never invested nor does it currently invest its resources in any way that is associated with the asbestos industry. Avina supports sustainable development, contributes to participatory processes to build legal frameworks that benefit society and the planet, and promotes the development of new technologies that support more inclusive models for society.

18.Based on analysis that Avina has conducted jointly with its allies, until now the organization has not focused its work on the protection of workers and communities from the impacts of industrial processes, but rather on opportunities to contribute to sustainable development in Latin America.

19.In 20 years of work in Latin America along with more than 7,000 institutions, the results achieved in the areas mentioned above have been significant: more than three million people in the region have improved access to water as a human right; in more than 60 Latin American cities, citizens participate democratically in the public debate to improve urban quality of life; than two million recyclers and their families enjoy newfound economic and social inclusion; and the rate of deforestation in the Amazon is decreasing.

20. Fundación Avina believes that global society is increasingly more aware of and willing to participate in the need to ban the use of asbestos, and it trusts that the appropriate measures will be adopted so that asbestos will be definitively removed from the economy of every nation, when governments and industry assume the responsibility to do so.


November 2014