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12 May 2015

Rotterdam Convention – Scandal as Asbestos Industry Undermines Discussions on Deadly Chrysotile Asbestos

Once again the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention is underway in Geneva, as Government representatives from 154 countries gather to discuss which hazardous substances should be listed for Prior Informed Consent when trading them between countries. It is essentially a simple right to know mechanism for export and import of the most hazardous substances. Applying the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedures to chrysotile would provide potentially life saving advice on hazards and how best to control them. This is the aim of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention. Not a ban, but listing of chrysotile under PIC requirements.

This is the fifth time that the UN has recommended the inclusion of deadly Chrysotile asbestos, and each time their efforts have been frustrated by the chrysotile asbestos producing nations. The scientific evidence is clear: each year at least 107 thousand people die from asbestos diseases, according to the official figures from the International Labour Organisation, the World Health Organisation and the International Social Security Association.

The problem is that exporting countries have used the right of veto to exclude chrysotile asbestos from the Convention. Their commercial interests are well known, and they are determined to protect their asbestos export market at all costs, by sending as delegates representatives of the chrysotile industry.

The system of the Rotterdam Convention is openly manipulated by the asbestos industry. Just a handful of producing countries, led by Russia, are cynically undermining efforts by the vast majority of governments who want to see chrysotile listed. It is very likely to be a repeat performance this week unless two thirds majority voting is introduced in the Convention. At the last meeting of the Rotterdam Convention, only seven countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, India and Vietnam) were able to block the wishes of 136 nations who want to see chrysotile asbestos listed.

”Chrysotile meets all the criteria for inclusion,” says Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary “so it is outrageous that this is being blatantly and persistently blocked by asbestos exporting countries. We need all governments to push the exporting nations to behave responsibly, and to recognise that is Convention is fundamentally flawed. We want governments to call for a two thirds majority vote in order to put an end to this farcical situation, which completely undermines the credibility of this important international convention.”

“The Building and Woodworkers International and our affiliated Trade Unions from all around the world have long campaigned for a total ban on the use of chrysotile asbestos. Exposure to this deadly material in the manufacture and use of building materials is killing hundreds of thousands of our members in the construction and building materials sectors. It is a deadly material that has no place in a sustainable industry of the 21st century. We will not rest until it is banned and all countries take action to manage all the asbestos already installed in the built environment, to protect our workforce and our communities. ”