Global Asbestos Action Alliance confronts global asbestos industry - Good CoP/ Bad CoP?

05 June 2017 19:26


For more than a decade the asbestos industry has blocked the wishes of the rest of the world and refused to allow chrysotile asbestos to be put on the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances. This must be stopped at COP 8. 

The Global Asbestos Action Alliance will renew it’s push this week to have white asbestos listed as a global banned substance as the 8th Conference of the Rotterdam Convention kicks off in Geneva. Rotterdam is one of three Conventions in the “triple CoP” which also features the Basel and Stockholm Conventions, regulating international trade in chemical and "other substances" including asbestos. 

Despite it meeting all requirements for listing by an independent expert panel for more than 10 years, chrysotile or white asbestos, a known killer, has still not been listed under the Convention. A rump of countries, led by Russia, which still mines and manufactures chrysotile products, simply refuse to allow it to be listed. 

Under current rules, a single country can stand in the way of an item being listed as a "toxic substance or known carcinogen". Advocates for the listing believe that the archaic voting procedures mean that millions of people will continue to be unnecessarily exposed to the deadly substance. The 10 year blocking of the listing of chrysotile must end. 

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said "Asbestos, including chrysotile, is one of the biggest industrial killers of all time. Tens of thousands of people die from it each year, and it is scandalous that more than a hundred million people are still exposed to chrysotile asbestos. Getting it on the Rotterdam list is an important step towards protecting those, especially in developing countries, who are increasingly being exposed to it." 

“How many more people will have to die because of Russia’s refusal?” Michael Borowick, Asst Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and observer to CoP 8, asked. “Australia banned asbestos in all its forms in 2003. It’s time that at the very least, we controlled its transport and storage internationally.” 

Andrew Dettmer, National President of the AMWU and an observer to CoP 8, attended CoP7 as an observer in 2015, said, “The Convention itself is dysfunctional. Because one nation can effectively mount a veto, this leads to perverse outcomes.” 

“It isn’t very different to Alice in Wonderland at times. At CoP 7, the biocide Fenthion, a proven killer, was considered for listing. But because Sudan wanted to keep using it – under pressure from the chemical industry - they vetoed its listing with their one vote. It’s perverse” he said. Susan Murray, National Health and Safety Adviser to Unite the Union (UK) also attended CoP 7. “The Convention needs changing. The proposal from the 12 African Nations to require a 75% vote to list a substance would simply bring Rotterdam into line with the other two Conventions.” 

Phil Hazelton, representative of Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA and Observer to CoP 8, said that it was heartening that a number of countries were strengthening their support for the listing of chrysotile and not being tricked by the asbestos industry sales job. “Asia is the big push for new sales by the asbestos industry as more countries in other regions ban it. Thanks to an increased awareness of the health impacts of the use of chrysotile they are looking at the economic and human costs of its use, and the availability of so many safe alternative products, and more and more deciding the long term cost of chrysotile is too much.” 

Esther Lynch, Confederal Secretary of the ETUC, said that it was important for the EU to take leadership. “Twelve African nations have stuck their necks out and said that the Convention isn’t good enough. We agree. The EU took a strong position at CoP7, stating that the failure to list Chrysotile risked reducing Rotterdam to a farce. It’s time for the EU to band together and bring the voting arrangements for Rotterdam into alignment with the other Conventions. 

Linda Reinstein, Mesothelioma widow and ADAO cofounder, simply stated, “Asbestos facts are irrefutable – asbestos kills. Enough.” 

The Global Asbestos Action Alliance is supported by: International Trade Union Confederation, European Trade Union Confederation, Australian Council of Trade Unions, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Trades Union Congress, Canadian Labor Congress, AFL-CIO, IndustriALL Global Union, BWI Global Union, the Rotterdam Convention Alliance (ROCA) and its individual members, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Unifor, Unite the Union, CCOO (Spain), Associated Labor Union (Philippines), ADAO, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA 

The following will be available for comment during the Conference Michael Borowick – ACTU ; Kathleen Ruff – ROCA; Andrew Dettmer – AMWU +61 419 899 345/; Susan Murray – Unite the Union; Phil Hazelton – Union Aid Abroad +84917878314; Esther Lynch – ETUC; Linda Reinstein – ADAO; Brian Kohler – IndustriALL; Fiona Murie – BWI.