No credibility on chrysotile – Predictably, no action from the UN as the biennial farce on asbestos concludes at Rotterdam Convention meeting

09 May 2017 08:19

Around 4 million tons of deadly chrysotile asbestos has been put into the built environment since the last UN discussions two years ago on whether this deadly material should be subject to Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedures.

This is the sixth time that the UN has recommended the inclusion of Chrysotile asbestos, and each time their efforts have been frustrated by the chrysotile asbestos producing nations. At two million tons a year, that guarantees a deadly legacy for workers and communities in the developing nations still using this outdated building material.

PIC 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 simply listing chrysotile under PIC requirements. 

The scientific evidence is clear: chrysotile causes cancer, and 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 “consensus” in the decision making is interpreted as unanimity, effectively giving the exporting countries 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 markets at all costs, by sending as delegates representatives of the chrysotile industry, and giving a platform to phony “international trade unions for chrysotile,” an industry funded lobby group.

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. Including 56 countries who have already banned it completely.

The Rotterdam Convention secretariat are unmoved by testimony from victims and refuse to apply common sense to change this undemocratic and failed mechanism.

”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 75% 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 chrysotile in the manufacture and use of building materials is killing hundreds of thousands of our members in the construction and building materials sectors. It 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. ”