More than a dozen ex-managers from the Italian office machines company, Olivetti, have been sentenced to jail time in a high-profile corporate manslaughter case in that country, the defendants deemed responsible for 14 employee deaths due to asbestos exposure.
The Local, Italy’s English newspaper, reports that ex-Olivetti president Franco De Benedetti and his brother Carlo were given the harshest of 15 sentences handed out to former company bosses, receiving five years and two months for what the court determined to be “corporate manslaughter.”
The brothers held top-level positions at Olivetti from 1979 to 1996, the article reports, and the judge in the case ruled that, during their tenure, they were responsible for 10 of the 14 deaths being investigated as part of this landmark case. Specifically, it was determined that the men failed to respond to the risks that workers at the Olivetti plant faced in regards to the asbestos dust that permeated the facility.
Carlo De Benedetti denies any wrongdoing. “I’m shocked and bitter that the judges have accepted these unfounded allegations,” he told reporters. “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.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs were obviously able to prove otherwise, though the prosecuting attorney noted that the victory was bittersweet.
“My satisfaction is limited because this is yet another case where deaths could have been avoided,” said the prosecuting magistrate, Laura Longo. “The difference between Olivetti and other companies is that it continued to use asbestos until the middle of the 1990s.”
Attorneys amassed 36,000 pages of evidence proving asbestos use and disregard for employees’ health, the article notes, spanning over about 50 years. Additional evidence including testimony from Olivetti workers from the past five decades.
The case was sparked by the death of employee Lucia Dilaurenti, who worked for the company from 1965 to 1980 and died of malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2005. A similar case was decided in 2015 against Pirelli tire manufacturer. In those proceedings, 11 former managers were charged with manslaughter and determined to have been responsible for the death of 24 employees at that Italian facility.
In the United States, asbestos cases do not generally involve manslaughter charges, though victims of mesothelioma and their families would no doubt easily understand why those charges would fit for those who allowed them or their loved ones to be unnecessarily exposed to asbestos.
Indeed, in most cases of asbestos exposure, a greedy corporation or negligent executives who cared little for workers’ health allowed asbestos use in their facilities to continue, even when evidence pointed to the fact that it was making people sick and – in many cases – eventually killing them. Hence, many deaths could have been avoided had companies made sensible decisions about ending asbestos use.