MAC/20: Mines and Communities

The troubles of companies dealing in asbestos continue

Published by MAC on 2004-07-21


The following are linked stories on asbestos.

The company hit hardest by asbestos claims during the nineties was Lloyds of London - once the world's biggest re-insurance "market". Teetering on the brink of self-destruction eight years ago, the company has pulled itself back from the brink, setting up a re-insurance company on which to off-load its own debt. However, accusations persist that Lloyds knew of the real dangers of asbestos even while it was urging its "Names" (private underwriters) to write thousands of policies insuring against them. Hundreds of these underwriters went under- - some committed suicide. Lloyds survived and indeed, last year, made a profit close to two billion pounds

Also featured is the company James Hardie, manufacturers of asbestos, who have shifted their headquarters from Australia to the Netherlands. They have also set up a trust called the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation which holds the company's former asbestos liabilities. A Commission of Inquiry set up by the NSW state government has found a shortfall in the funds of this trust estimated at around A$2billion, and found the directors of the company and their lawyers involved in fraudulent, misleading and deceptive conduct in concealing the true costs of liability at the time it was set up.


Lloyd's Equitas in asbestos claims deal with EnPro

PlanetArk UK

July 21, 2004

London - Equitas, the reinsurer set up to deal with Lloyd's of London's multibillion pound asbestos exposure, has reached a $118 million claims settlement with U.S.-based EnPro Industries, Equitas said yesterday.

The agreement will settle all claims made against underwriters operating on the Lloyd's of London insurance market by EnPro, a maker of industrial products, and its subsidiaries.

The deal represents another big stride in Equitas's attempts to settle the asbestos exposure facing Lloyd's, estimated at 4 billion pounds ($7.4 billion).

Asbestos was widely used as a fireproofing and insulation material until the 1970s. Scientists say inhaled fibers are linked to cancer and other diseases.

Companies already have paid an estimated $70 billion on some 730,000 asbestos personal injury claims, according to the RAND Institute for Civil Justice.

In March, Equitas reached a $245 million claims settlement with Travelers Property Casualty Corp.

The EnPro deal will be another source of relief to the Lloyd's market and to its former capital providers, known as Names, who are still potentially liable to be asked for more money in the event that Equitas runs out of cash.

Equitas was set up in 1996 to deal with massive exposure to asbestos and other claims which brought the Lloyd's market to the brink of extinction. It effectively assumed all the market's pre-1993 liabilities so Lloyd's could keep underwriting.


Victims push for James Hardie asbestos charges

July 15, 2004

ABC online

Lawyers representing victims of asbestos products have called for criminal charges to be laid against senior executives of the James Hardie company.

The commissioner overseeing an inquiry into James Hardie's asbestos liabilities will publish sections of submissions to the inquiry.

His order to keep the submissions confidential was lifted after the company released some of its submission.

James Hardie says it would make more payments if there were a new compensation system which would effectively cap payouts to victims.

Lawyer Peter Gordon says that is blackmail.

"It is effectively saying to the governments of this country, 'we've made off with this money, you can't catch us - it doesn't matter how dishonest we've been, unless you change the sovereign laws of this country exactly as it suits us, or you'll never see us again',' Mr Gordon said.

"Our submission alleges fraud, it alleges dishonesty, it alleges misleading and deceptive conduct."

As well as charging senior executives, the submission from unions and victims argues James Hardie should be pursued for the money.

The legal team assisting the inquiry has called for retrospective legislation to make holding companies liable for their subsidiaries.

The aim of the proposal is to allow asbestos victims to call on assets of the James Hardie building company, despite its separation from its former asbestos manufacturing subsidiaries.

The inquiry into the under funded foundation holding James Hardie's former subsidiaries has been told limited liability principles, which ensure the company is not liable to asbestos victims, should be reformed.

The legal team says liability for personal injury or death caused by a company should extend to the corporate group it is a part of.


Boycott call on Hardie gathers pace

By Stephen Gibbs, ABC

August 4, 2004

The public backlash against James Hardie Industries will spread today with the announcement of a local government campaign to boycott the company's products.

City of Sydney, Parramatta and Leichhardt councils have already resolved to boycott the company's building materials until it reverses moves to distance itself from victims of asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Bankstown, Blue Mountains, Waverley and several other councils are set to vote on boycotts, and Canada Bay was considering the issue last night.

The Premier, Bob Carr, said yesterday that he was "inclined to support" a ban on the use of James Hardie products by State Government contractors.

The Government is considering such a proposal put forward by unions, following accusations before a commission of inquiry that the company has short-changed a compensation fund by up to $2 billion.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has written to all mayors calling on councils to join a boycott endorsed by the Labor Council of NSW. The union's state secretary, Andrew Ferguson, said the issue was "gaining considerable traction in the broader community, outside the traditional ambit of union activity". Advertisement Advertisement

On Monday night, City of Sydney Council condemned the actions of James Hardie and resolved that contractors should not purchase or use James Hardie products.

The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said staff had been directed not to purchase James Hardie products until the company "convinces council it has met its obligations to asbestos victims".

"I think there's a groundswell of opinion in that people are really quite shocked that James Hardie could have gone to such lengths to avoid clear responsibility for quite shocking impacts on people's lives," Cr Moore said.

The Labor candidate for the federal seat of Parramatta, Julie Owens, approached the construction union about the boycott three weeks ago.

"What people are realising now is this is not just a worker issue," she said. "I'm getting a sense of anger from the community. This is not just a workplace issue, this is a huge community health issue and the community is taking it on well and truly."

The Lord Mayor of Parramatta, Julia Finn, said the council voted unanimously on Monday night to use other products in all building maintenance and capital works.

Leichhardt's Mayor, Alice Murphy, put her motion to the council last Tuesday. It "boycotts all James Hardie products until full compensation is guaranteed to existing and future victims of asbestos related disease".

The council was "outraged at James Hardie's behaviour", Cr Murphy said.

The Mayor of Bankstown, Helen Westwood, who is also president of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, said a local government boycott "affects the bottom line, and that seems to be what they respond to". She said: "I'm hoping that all local government will boycott James Hardie products. Perhaps then they'll be willing to act in a way that they should have in the beginning."

The Blue Mountains Mayor, Jim Angel, said he expected the council to boycott James Hardie products after a meeting next Tuesday night.

A James Hardie spokesman said the company was "addressing all our issues through the commission process and that's really all we're saying".


Australian government seeks Dutch treaty to protect asbestos victims

ABC News,

Wednesday August 4, 2004

The Federal Government says it has approached the Dutch Government to sign a treaty making Australian court judgments enforceable in The Netherlands.

Legal teams appearing before an inquiry into asbestos compensation say any judgments against James Hardie will not be enforceable as the company is now incorporated in The Netherlands.

The Federal Attorney-General's office says The Netherlands is not one of the 40 countries which have signed the Foreign Judgements Act, which allows Australian court judgements to be enforced.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union says its Dutch counterparts are also lobbying their MPs to push for the treaty to be signed.

They say that would prevent James Hardie avoiding its responsibility to victims of its Australian asbestos products.

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