Jail Terms in Italy over Asbestos related Deaths

Sep 27, 2016

Fifteen former managers of the Italian electronics firm Olivetti have been sentenced in a high profile manslaughter trial in Italy. The case against Olivetti related to the deaths of 14 employees as a result of direct exposure to asbestos containing materials. The company continued to use asbestos until the mid 1990’s and as a result workers were exposed to significant health risks. Olivetti had at one point employed up to 50,000 workers and was extremely successful in the Italian market despite challenges from the economy.

15 of the 17 managers charged were found guilty of corporate manslaughter with the harshest sentence of 5 years and 2 months handed out to ex-Olivetti President Franco De Benedetti, and his brother Carlo De Benedetti. Both held high level positions within Olivetti between 1979 and 1996, the judge ruling that they were responsible for 10 of the 14 deaths investigated. It was held that the pair failed to identify and control risks from asbestos dust at the Olivetti plant during production. As a result the case centered on the fact that the employee deaths could have been avoided and that safety measures were implemented too late to have any effect. The failure to respond to the risks workers faced from asbestos dust ultimately led to the conviction of corporate manslaughter. Carlo Benedetii responded to the sentences by stating “I'm shocked and bitter that the judges have accepted these unfounded allegations”, and commented further, “I've been condemned for crimes I didn’t commit. Under my management, Olivetti always had the maximum care for the safety and well-being of its employees”.

Corada Paasera, the former Italian transport and infrastructure minister was another high profile businessman under investigation and was sentenced to 23 months in jail as a result of the trial. He had resided over Olivetti as a Director between 1992 and 1996. The company was also convicted and fined with compensation claims in excess of 5 million euro awarded to the victim’s families.

In response to the sentences the prosecuting magistrate contended “My satisfaction is limited because this is yet another case where deaths could have been avoided”. The case can now be appealed, however under Italian law this may take many years and some of the cases will never be concluded.

This case serves to highlight the importance of corporate responsibility in relation to safety from the highest level of any organization. A number of high profile cases are now resulting in the successful conviction of former managers and directors of companies. The Olivetti case follows last year’s conviction of eleven former managers at Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli after 24 workers died of asbestos exposure.

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