Key trial begins in Switzerland over protests against climate change

About 30 activists went on trial on Tuesday for blockading a Swiss shopping mall in a case seen testing the defence that they were justified because of the global climate emergency.

Key trial begins in Switzerland over protests against climate change
A member of the Red Rebel Brigade hugs a climate activist prior to the opening of the trial of 31 climate activists from Climate Strike and Extinction Rebellion (XR) movements who blocked access to a shopping centre in 2019 on May 25, 2021 in Fribourg. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The campaigners, mostly aged between 19 and 25, were previously found to have acted illegally when they protested against the promotion of “Black Friday” — a now-global shopping festival held every November 29th that the activists said was an unsustainable celebration of consumption.

Swiss courts have in the past sometimes ruled that such acts of civil disobedience were justified because of the urgency of the global fight to combat climate change.

The case, due to last for four days, is the biggest trial related to climate change issues in Switzerland to date, according to media reports.

On November 29th, 2019, demonstrations were staged at shopping malls across Europe in the first “Block Friday” to denounce the environmental toll of mass consumption, according to the Extinction Rebellion network.

In the latest case, the activists were fined for taking part in an unauthorised protest, disturbing public order and disobeying police, according to Swiss news agency ATS.

But the environmentalists are challenging the penalties handed down by prosecutors.

The trial is already promising to prove contentious. The dozen lawyers for the defence complained some weeks ago that the presiding judge had not granted them the right to call certain expert witnesses — among them, Nobel chemistry prize winner and environmental advocate Jacques Dubochet.

While trials of climate activists have multiplied in recent months in Switzerland, defence lawyers have repeatedly, and sometimes successfully, invoked a “state of necessity” due to the climate emergency.

In January 2020, a judge accepted that defence in the case of 12 activists who had entered a branch of Credit Suisse in November 2018 dressed up as Roger Federer.

They were protesting against the investments in fossil fuels by the bank, a key sponsor of the Swiss tennis star.

The judge ruled that their actions were legitimate in the face of the climate emergency.

That ruling was overturned on appeal, with the higher court arguing that the activists could have used other legal means.

But last October, a Geneva court of appeal in turn acquitted a young activist who in 2018 vandalised the headquarters of Credit Suisse in another protest against its fossil fuel investments, citing “the state of necessity” in the face of the climate emergency.

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Italian factories on strike over extreme heat after worker dies

Italian factory workers have launched a strike after a man died while working at a automotive manufacturing plant outside Turin on Thursday.

Italian factories on strike over extreme heat after worker dies

The man, 61, fell unconscious and hit his head while performing routine tasks, according to La Stampa news daily. Efforts by colleagues to revive him with a defibrillator were unsuccessful.

The official cause of death is currently being investigated by police, but with temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius in parts of the country, heat exhaustion is thought likely to be responsible.

Factory workers from the local area organised an eight-hour picket on Friday outside the Dana Graziano plant in Rivoli where the man worked.

Italy is in the midst of a scorching mid-July heatwave, and most factories do not have air conditioning systems.

READ ALSO: Italy’s heatwave peaks with 16 cities on red alert as Tuscany burns

The Fiom CGIL metal workers’ union say they have recently received multiple reports of factory temperatures reaching over 35 degrees Celsius in the Piedmont area. At the Mirafiori Fiat manufacturing plant in Turin, workers have reportedly recorded highs of 40 degrees.

A previous strike called by auto parts workers on Tuesday protested the “intense pace of work” workers are required to keep up in the “unbearable heat of these past few days”.

“There are many of our members who are reporting illnesses in the factory due to the intense heat of the last few weeks,” Edi Lazzi, Fiom CGIL’s Turin general secretary, told La Stampa.

Italy does not have a nationally unified labor code, but worker’s rights are enshrined in the constitution and touched on in various laws. 

According to the site Lavori e diretti (work and rights), article 2087 of the Italian civil code requires employers to protect employees’ health and wellbeing. 

National legislation does not require companies to keep the workplace within any particular temperature range, though workplace accident insurance institute Inail recommends in summer there should not be more than a seven degree difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures.

A 2015 Supreme Court case recognised the right of workers to stop working while retaining the right to pay in excessively cold conditions.