Trade Union Federation and SP protest at asbestos producer James Hardie’s shareholders’ meeting

17 September 2004

Trade Union Federation and SP protest at asbestos producer James Hardie’s shareholders’ meeting

This morning the SP, together with workers of the FNV, the Netherlands’ main trade union federation, took action during the shareholders’ meeting of asbestos firm James Hardie in Amsterdam. Also present at the protest were representatives of a number of Australian and British trade unions and the chairmen of the Dutch and Australian Asbestos Committees. One of the firm’s victims, who suffers from asbestosis, spoke during the meeting, calling on shareholders to face up to their responsibilities.

With the help of leaflets and banners the demonstrators called on those shareholders present to vote against James Hardie plc’s annual report, unless and until the multinational guaranteed that it would pay promised compensation to the last penny.

James Hardie was Australia’s biggest producer of asbestos and is responsible for more than half of the country’s victims of asbestos-related disease. By registering its parent company in the Netherlands, the multinational dodged claims for compensation from thousands of victims of asbestos, the two countries’ having no liability treaty.

Two weeks ago James Hardie gave way to political and social pressure from both Australia and the Netherlands and promised to compensate its victims. The proposal, however, turned out to be qualified by some very small print, making it unacceptable to victims and to trade unions, who have refused to be distracted by fine words.

SP Member of Parliament Krista van Velzen took part in the action: "The affair of James Hardie has created a great deal of social and political unrest in Australia,” said Ms. van Velzen. “A firm which acts in such bad faith should not be allowed to use the Netherlands as a safe haven." FNV Chairman Henk van der Kolk, who also participated, called on the Dutch government to accept its responsibilities. “The government must find agreement at European level over what to do if this kind of firm seeks to register in the EU. It should act now while the Netherlands holds the EU presidency.”

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