The Right Livelihood Award (also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) is intended to allow its laureates to make new investments in their projects as well as to provide them with personal support, protection and increased publicity for their causes. It also includes a tour through different European countries that winners undertake after the awards ceremony in Stockholm in order to draw attention to their work. Monika Griefahn took the opportunity to show the American lawyer, Robert Bilott, around the German parliament, the Bundestag, and to introduce him to a number of federal politicians.
Success for 70.000 victims of chemical pollution
Bilott received the Right Livelihood Award in November along with three other laureates as part of a formal ceremony at the Vasa Museum in the Swedish capital. He has been campaigning against the chemical pollution of the environment for several decades and has achieved justice for many of his clients. In a legal battle lasting 19 years, he represented 70,000 citizens whose drinking water had been contaminated with Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) by the chemical giant DuPont. Expanding upon the concept of class-action litigation, he set up a 7-year toxicological study of the 70,000 victims, which contributed significantly to the scientific understanding of the global health risks associated with Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). This class of substances, which do not break down in the environment or the human body, are ubiquitous in our societies today. At a time when environmental regulation is under serious threat of being watered down in the United States and elsewhere, Bilott successfully won compensation for his clients and continues to call for better regulation of toxic substances.
Among others the lawyer met Cem Ozdemir of the Green Party during his Berlin visit with whom he talked about the possibilities of this kind of class action. He also enjoyed the scenic view over the city from the roof of the Reichstag building – although unfortunately the sky was overcast. In a display of humour he joined the line of photos showing the chairpersons of the Bundestag faction of the Social Democratic Party SPD next to Thomas Oppermann.
For inclusion and justice, against corruption
Other than Bilott the latest laureates of the “Alternative Nobel Prize” include Yetnebersh Nigussie of Ethiopia, Colin Gonsalves of India and Khadija Ismayilova of Azerbaijan. They are a human rights activist, a journalist and a judge respectively and they fight for inclusion, justice as well as against corruption. Apart from Ismayilova, who was not able to travel to the awards ceremony, the other award winners attended meetings in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland in order to make their causes better known. These meetings included, for example, a meeting with the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, and a panel discussion in Geneva that’s already somewhat traditional.