Unions want all hazardous chemicals listed in Rotterdam Convention

BWI-affiliated trade unionists joined a protest action on 14 June at the Geneva International Conference Centre calling on the 10th Conference of Parties (COP) of the Rotterdam Convention to list and ban all hazardous chemicals and substances that are dangerous to the health of the working people. 

In a flyer circulated online, the protestors said that 18 years since the Convention came into force, many hazardous chemicals continue to evade from being included in its list of banned toxic substances. They cited chrysotile asbestos as an example, which is long banned in most global north countries, but has yet to be included in the Convention’s list. Other hazardous chemicals whose listing is currently being blocked by vested groups are acetochlor, carbosulfan, fenthion formulation and paraquat formulation. 

The Cement and Lime and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (CLAWUZ) said that a small number of parties to the Rotterdam Convention are once again blocking the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos and four other substances in its Annex III list of the Convention all hazardous chemicals and substances based on the recommendation by the Chemical Review Committee

“The people’s ‘right to know’ is being grossly violated, and the lives of workers and communities are put at risk due to the lack of information on the importation and exportation of the said hazardous chemicals. The refusal by certain Parties to allow the listing of chrysotile asbestos and other toxic substances is driven purely by economic interest,” CLAWUZ-Youth Chairperson Blessing Nhende said. 

The protestors demanded the Rotterdam Convention COP 10 to: 1) list in Annex III of the Convention all hazardous chemicals and substances based on the recommendation by the Chemical Review Committee, 2) redouble efforts to improve the effectiveness of the Convention, and 3) implement the “right to know” for all Parties to the Convention and respect the scientific recommendations of the Chemical Review Committee. 

Prior to the protest, BWI, together with different networks and campaign groups, expressed its extreme disappointment with the secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention for allowing a pro-asbestos lobby group to participate as an observer in the Convention’s COP held this year. 

In a 30 May letter, the groups said that the pro-asbestos group was even allowed by the Convention secretariat to hold a side event that promoted the alleged contributions of chrysotile asbestos. They branded the pro-asbestos activity in the official Convention program an “outrage.”

Asbestos-related illnesses are some of the most common cause of workplace deaths. Globally, over 220,000 people die annually from illnesses linked to asbestos exposure.