Many conclusions can be drawn regarding Stephen Schmideiny’s career from the article, “Stephan Schmidheiny, asbestos magnate, sentenced to 18 years in prison for ‘permanent intentional environmental disaster,’” published in June 2013, which require the following explanations:
Before becoming an asbestos magnate, in the 13 years between his inheriting Swiss Eternit in 1976 at the age of 29, and selling his shares in 1989, Stephan Schmidheiny was the global leader in the elimination of asbestos in industrial processing.
In 1976, just months after assuming the leadership of Eternit, he held a meeting with managers and directors requesting that they take on the challenge of implementing better safety measures for the handling of asbestos, a policy that would become formalized with the use of the “New Technology” program. In 1981, before the establishment of all state regulations and policies, Schmidheiny announced his decision that Eternit would stop using asbestos and, in 1984, most of Eternit’s production replaced this component with another that was paper-pulp based.
In 1989, after investing millions of dollars in programs on the safe handling of asbestos and the research to find a substitute—which led to the unviability of several of Eternit’s plants that were later shut down due to Schmidheiny’s decision to end the use of asbestos—he decided to sell all his shares in Eternit and completely and definitively retired from the asbestos industry.
Wanting to make Stephen Schmidheiny synonymous with the asbestos industry, means building a façade that the true asbestos magnates of the world, past and present, need in order to remain hidden, since 2/3 of the world’s countries still allow the use of asbestos, while Schmidheiny abandoned this industry 25 years ago.
Reference is made to the trial held in Turin, in which Stephen Schmidheiny who, as head of Swiss Eternit, was a shareholder of Eternit in Italy between 1976 and 1986, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and ordered pay 88 million euros in compensation for damages from the use of asbestos. What is not mentioned is that as a result of some irregularities identified in the proceedings which deprived Schmidheiny of an impartial trial and the right to a fair trial, the sentence is being appealed in Rome’s Court of Annulment. The irregularities that the court is analyzing are:
Given the amount of irregularities in the legal proceedings, it would seem that the prosecutors were using the trial to fabricate the guilty party they needed instead of seeking the truth that the victims deserve.
The article mentions VIVA Trust, created in 2003, as the financial backer for Fundación Avina, suggesting that these funds would be linked to the profits generated by asbestos. Based on this incorrect information, it is implied that Fundación Avina is used “to enhance his public image.” It is absolutely wrong to link VIVA Trust to asbestos, given that it is a trust established with the stocks and investments that Stephan Schmidheiny had in Grupo Nueva, formed in 1998 by Latin American companies that are completely unattached to that industry, as it has been 20 years since Schmidheiny began to diversify his investments, and 10 years since he severed ties with the Eternit group. So, it is clear that Fundación Avina could never have been used to enhance his public image since it never received asbestos-related money nor did it ever support any activities linked to that agenda. On the other hand, VIVA Trust is one of its financial sources, but it also co-invests millions of dollars in Latin America along with other donating entities, companies and multilateral funds of international cooperation.
Further on, the article refers to remarks by Judge Ogge, the president of the tribunal, made at one of the trial’s hearings, who compared the conference in Wansee, organized by the Nazis in 1942 to discuss the deportation of the Jews, to the meeting in Neuss that Stephan Schmidheiny held in 1976, just a few months after taking over Eternit. According to the interpretation in the article, Schmidheiny, in “Neuss, before an audience of 30 people, all managers of Eternit companies in Europe,” knowing “that asbestos posed a health risk,” stated “that they should be aware of this but if other people found out they would have to shut down or take other financial measures.
Therefore, he told the directors that they had to be careful about the information they gave, to say that asbestos was not harmful, did not cause death and that the risk could be controlled.” What actually happened in Neuss was that a 29-year-old man, who had recently taken over a company with tens of thousands of employees around world, gathered the Eternit directors from all the countries where Swiss Eternit had holdings and told them that, in view of the suspected dangers of handling asbestos, they should implement the necessary measures to protect the workers’ health as well as the environment. This would be later ratified by concrete actions: the investment of millions of dollars in programs related to the safe handling of asbestos, the replacement of that mineral with another paper-based material in 1984, and his definitive separation from that industry in 1989.
In the 13 years (1976–1989) Schmidheiny was involved in the asbestos industry, his actions, as well as the various recognitions he received worldwide, demonstrate on their own that, having inherited a problem, he handed down numerous solutions.
All information regarding the business and philanthropic development of Stephan Schmidheiny will soon be available at “The Schmidheiny Story: The Sustainable Truth.”
With the creation of a brick factory in Heerbrugg, Switzerland, Jacob Schmidheiny, Stephan’s great-grandfather, lays the foundation of the family business.
Brown, Boveri & Cie. is founded in 1891 in Baden, Switzerland, by Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown and Walter Boveri.
The Eternit company is founded in Italy, a corporation with numerous local shareholders and a few foreign shareholders.
Ernest Schmidheiny I, Stephan’s grandfather, invests in the emerging cement industry through Holderbank (now called Holcim) and then in the processing of asbestos, through Eternit Switzerland.
On October 29, 1947, Stephan Ernest Schmidheiny is born in Balgach, St. Gallen, Switzerland. He is the second of four siblings, the children of Max Schmidheiny and Adda Schmidheiny – Scherrer.
Stephan Schmidheiny works in an Eternit factory in Brazil, performing tasks that bring him in direct contact with asbestos.
After studying law, he obtains a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Zurich, Switzerland.
The Swiss Eternit Group (SEG) becomes the largest shareholder of the Italian company Eternit SpA. The ILO convenes a meeting of experts to debate the safe use of asbestos. Subsequently, the international body publishes the report “Asbestos: Health Risks and their Prevention”.
Stephan Schmidheiny is formally named Head of Sales for Eternit A.G in Niederurnen, Switzerland.
Schmidheiny is named General Manager and member of the Board of Directors of Eternit A.G. in Niederurnen, Switzerland.
Schmidheiny succeeds his father as General Director of the Swiss Eternit Group (SEG), becoming responsible for a conglomerate of companies with factories in more than 20 countries.
He promotes the “New Technology” program, a pioneering, innovative initiative to find a substitute for asbestos in the manufacturing of panels and other products, as well as to set up safety measures to protect workers in Swiss Eternit Group (SEG) plants across the world.
Schmidheiny becomes a member of the Board of Directors (1978 – 1996) of the Union Bank of Switzerland (which later becomes UBS).
The ILO convenes again with an emphasis on the need to adopt international standards for the prevention and control of the risks caused by exposure to asbestos, as well as the urgent need to produce a set of practical recommendations for the safe handling of asbestos. The document “Safety in the Use of Asbestos” is published in 1984. The majority of the recommendations had already been put into practice voluntarily by Eternit before the ILO published the code of practice.
Schmidheiny publicly announces that the Swiss Eternit Group (SEG) will stop manufacturing products that contain asbestos due to the potential human and environmental problems associated with the mineral. SEG takes this radical step before the majority of European countries adopt legislation banning asbestos and certainly before the rest of the world, given that in several countries in Latin America the use of asbestos as a raw material for construction products is still legal and quite prevalent to this day.
Schmidheiny joins the Board of Directors (1981 – 1997) of Brown, Boveri & Cie., a position from which he promotes a merger with Asea, forming Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) in 1988. Schmidheiny steps down from the position in 1997.
He starts to diversify his investments and acquires the Swiss newspaper kiosk company, Distral Group.
Schmidheiny enters the Latin American market for the first time, investing in the forestry industry in Chile through the company Terranova.
Six years after Stephan Schmidheiny started a workplace safety and innovation program at Swiss Eternit Group (SEG) plants, and months after Schmidheiny issued the order for SEG to exit the asbestos industry completely, Sweden becomes the first nation in the world to prohibit the use of asbestos.
His father, Max Schmidheiny, hands over control of the Swiss Eternit Group (SEG) to Stephan and turns the cement company Holderbank (later called Holcim) over to his brother, Thomas.
The Swiss Eternit Group (SEG) plants manage to manufacture numerous asbestos-free products, replacing it with a component based on paper pulp. SEG becomes less competitive due to the high production costs.
Stephan Schmidheiny and the archbishop of Panama, Marcos McGrath, create FUNDES, a foundation to build the capacity of small and medium sized businesses in Latin America.
Schmidheiny acquires a third of the shares of the SMH group, the largest manufacturer of Swiss watches. He actively participates in the restructuring of the company, which leads to the formation of the successful Swatch Group.
The mayor of Casale Monferrato, Italy sends a personal letter to Schmidheiny, explaining his concern about the effects that the closing of the Eternit factory in his town could have on the labor market.
Schmidheiny becomes a Board Member of Landis & Gyr, a firm dedicated to energy management. One year later he becomes the majority shareholder and in 1995 he sells his shares to Elektrowatt. He steps down from the board in 1996.
He is elected as President of the International Management Institute (IMI) in Geneva. In 1989, he promotes a merger with IMEDE to form the International Management Development (IMD) business school in Lausana, Switzerland. Schmidheiny steps down from the Board of the IMD Foundation in 1992.
Eternit SpA Italy declares bankruptcy. An official receiver takes control of the company, eliminating the Swiss Eternit Group’s (SEG) role in its administration. The bankruptcy liquidation lasts until 2008.
Schmidheiny becomes a Board Member of Nestlé (1988 – 2003).
Eternit Switzerland sells its shares in Eternit Brazil and Amindus Holding to the Saint Gobain firm. After these sales, Schmidheiny no longer holds any shares in these companies.
In 1988 Schmidheiny starts the process of selling the Swiss Eternit Group (SEG), which concludes in 1989. The shares are sold to the legal buyers with all the corresponding rights and responsibilities.
He acquires Wild-Leitz, a company that in 1990 merges with Cambridge Instruments, creating Leica Microsystems, which currently has factories in five countries and sales and services in more than 20 countries.
Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), names Schmidheiny Chief Advisor for Trade and Industry, due to his reputation as a pioneer in social and environmental issues, in preparation for the Earth Summit to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Switzerland bans the processing of asbestos, nine years after Stephan Schmidheiny announced that he would eliminate its usage in Swiss Eternit Group (SEG) plants.
Schmidheiny founds the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD), along with high ranking executives from different industries and regions, to inform his work as chief adviser to the Secretary General of the UNCED. The first meeting takes place in The Hague.
Together with Hernando de Soto, he publishes the book “Las nuevas reglas del juego: Hacia el desarrollo sostenible en América Latina” (“The New Rules of the Game: Towards Sustainable Development in Latin America”).
Stephan’s father, Max Schmidheiny, passes away.
Italy introduces national rules according to the regulation issued by the European Union in 1983 regarding the maximum concentration of asbestos fibers permitted for industrial uses.
Italy bans the processing of asbestos six years after Eternit closed its Italian factories.
Schmidheiny publishes and is the main author of the best-seller “Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective for Development and Environment”, with the results from the work of the BCSD.
Stephan’s younger brother, Alexander Schmidheiny, passes away at an early age and leaves Stephan the Daros art collection, which was created together with Thomas Ammann in the 1980s. From 2001 to 2008, some of the pieces from the Daros Collection were shown at exhibitions in Löwenbräu-Areal, Switzerland. Since
Schmidheiny is designated as a member of the Board of the World Resources Institute (WRI), headquartered in Washington (1993 – 2001).
Stephan receives an honorary doctorate from the INCAE Business School, Costa Rica.
Schmidheiny founds Avina Stiftung in Switzerland, a foundation that promotes social and ecological sustainability, combining philanthropic work with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Together with Bruno Fritsch and Walter Seifritz, he publishes the book “Towards an Ecologically Sustainable Growth Society: Physical Foundations, Economic Transitions, and Political Constraints”.
After the Earth Summit, the members of the BCSD merge with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to form the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
In honor of his brother who passed away in 1992, Stephan creates the Alexander Schmidheiny Stiftung, a foundation to support cultural, social, and environmental projects and activities.
Schmidheiny establishes the Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS), a partnership among the four most important scientific and technological universities in the world. He serves as president of the International Advisory Board between 1996 and 2001.
He creates the Centro Latinoamericano para la Competitividad y el Desarrollo Sostenible (Center for Latin American Competitiveness and Sustainable Development - CLACDS) at the INCAE Business School in Costa Rica, together with Brizio Biondi-Morra and Roberto Artavia.
Stephan receives an honorary doctorate from Yale University, New Haven.
Together with Federico Zorraquín and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Schmidheiny edits “Financing Change: The Financial Community, Eco-efficiency, and Sustainable Development”.
He publishes the book “Sustainable Development: The Financial Markets in a Paradigm Shift,” together with Rolf Gerling.
Stephan Schmidheiny recieves the “Ordem Nacional do Cruzeiro do Sul” (“Order of the Southern Cross”) award from then president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
Schmidheiny is named co-president (1997 – 1998) of the OECD’s High Level Advisory Group on the Environment. His recommendation to make sustainability a general principle of the organization serve as the basis for a Ministerial Meeting of the OECD in 1998.
Stephan Schmidheiny creates the holding company Grupo Nueva, which encompasses his investments in companies in Latin America —Terranova (later called Masisa), Grupo Amanco, and Ecos— and is committed to the three areas of corporate responsibility: financial, social and environmental.
Together with Jeff Gates he publishes the book “Ownership Solution: Toward a Shared Capitalism for the 21st Century”.
Schmidheiny is named Honorary President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
Schmidheiny, together with Ruth, his former wife, create Daros Latin America, an art institution headquartered in Zurich with the goal of creating and conserving a collection of contemporary Latin American art. Since 2013, it offers activities for the public at the Casa Daros (Daros House) in Rio de Janeiro.
In line with his humanitarian mission, Stephan Schmidheiny tasks Becon A.G. with a plan to analyze possible ways of helping with situations caused by asbestos.
Stephan receives an honorary doctorate from Rollings University, Florida.
Stephan receives an honorary doctorate from Universidad Católica de Andrés Bello in Caracas, Venezuela.
Schmidheiny establishes Fundación Avina in Latin America to promote social and business leadership for sustainable development in the region.
Schmidheiny publishes the book “Walking the Talk: The Business Case for Sustainable Development,” together with Chad Holliday and Philip Watts.
Together with Erika Knie, he founds Fundación MarViva, a non-profit entity focused on the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal resources in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
Through Grupo Nueva, Schmidheiny acquires a majority stake in the forestry company Masisa, headquartered in Chile and with forestry and industrial operations in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela.
Schmidheiny establishes an irrevocable trust, VIVA TRUST, donating all of the stock and investments of the Grupo Nueva holding group, a cash sum, and other liquid investments. The donation, with a total value of more than 1 billion USD, ensures the long-term sustainability of Avina and Fundes and the continuity of their philanthropic activities in Latin America. After the creation of this trust, Schmidheiny announces his gradual retirement from executive functions.
The shareholders of Terranova approve a merger with Masisa. The new company is named Masisa S.A.
Stephan Schmidheiny publishes an autobiography titled “My Path - My Perspective.”
Becon A.G. starts to give out humanitarian aid to the former employees (or the families of former employees) of Eternit SpA in Italy.
Amanco, part of Grupo Nueva, is sold to Mexican firm Mexichem.
Plycem Company, also part of GrupoNueva, is sold to Mexican company Mexalit Industrial. After these sales, the productive activities of the companies in VIVA TRUST are concentrated in the forestry industry.
Schmidheiny participates in the creation of Fundación Latinoamérica Posible (LAP) with the goal of promoting the growing and responsible participation of the productive sector in the sustainable development of communities and nations.
Schmidheiny expands the humanitarian aid program that was first started in 2007 through Becon A.G. to people affected by asbestos living in the areas surrounding the Eternit SpA industrial plants.
In Turin, Italy, the Criminal Court of first instance begins criminal proceedings against the Belgian Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne and against Stephan Schmidheiny, in his capacity as shareholder of the Italian company Eternit SpA.
The authors René Lüchinger and Ueli Burkhard publish a biography about Stephan Schmidheiny titled “Stephan Schmidheiny: The Long Journey to Find Himself. Heir - Entrepreneur – Philanthropist.”
On February 13th, The Criminal Court of Turin rules in the case of Eternit SpA and sentences Baron Louis de Cartier and Stephan Schmidheiny to prison. The ruling sustains that they were responsible for causing an “intentional disaster” and for “intentional non-compliance with safety measures” in two of the four Eternit SpA production plants.
Upon hearing an appeal of the sentence, the Court of Appeals in Turin pronounces a new ruling confirming the sentencing of Stephan Schmidneiny, changing the charges and increasing the length of the sentence. Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne passes away before the sentence is handed down.
In order to celebrate the 10th anniversary of VIVA TRUST, the Centro de Intercambio de Conocimientos (Center for Knowledge Exchange - CiC) is launched, with the goal of sharing lessons learned by the organizations created by Schmidheiny and to inspire a new generation of social and business entrepreneurs in Latin America and around the world.
By this date, more than 1,500 people affected by asbestos from the north and south of Italy have received humanitarian aid from Becon A.G. since 2007.
On November 19, Italy’s highest court, the Corte Suprema di Cassazione in Rome, overturned the June 2013 verdict of the Turin Court of Appeals and acquitted Stephan Schmidheiny. Italy’s General Attorney denounced that the process had no legal grounding and requested the complete annulment of the trial with no possibility of reopening the cause. The defense attorneys held that the process severely violated the right to a fair and equitable trial, as well as the principle of “there can be no penalty without law” as stated in article 7 of ECHR.