A global trade union campaign to stop the deadly trade in chrysotile asbestos is underway as the United Nations prepares to vote on whether to add the toxic mineral to a list of dangerous substances. Global union federation IndustriALL and its affiliate, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), are mounting pressure on countries preparing to vote on listing chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention at a UN conference in Geneva, Switzerland from 11 to 14 May.
The Convention lists other types of asbestos, but not chrysotile, which is just as deadly and the only type of asbestos still in commercial use. All forms of asbestos cause cancers and lung diseases such as asbestosis. The World Health Organisation estimates that 100,000 people a year die from exposure to asbestos.
A powerful advertising campaign on trams and buses running through the heart of Geneva is set to remind residents and conference visitors about the alarming dangers of asbestos. Beginning on 6 May, it will run for two weeks.
And yet 2 million tonnes of chrysotile asbestos are still traded every year without any international regulation. Although banned in 50 nations, in countries such as India and Indonesia, consumption is increasing. Major asbestos exporters – Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan, as well as India, are set to veto restrictions on exporting chrysotile asbestos under the Convention.
Jyrki Raina, IndustriALL’s general secretary, said: “The sickening trade in asbestos has to end. All asbestos kills. These countries need to take responsibility and stop mining asbestos and stop using it.”
A number of trade union affiliates have responded to the call from IndustriALL and written to their governments, demanding that they support the listing of chrysotile under the Convention at the Geneva conference next week. IndustriALL has also been working with the Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) global union in the campaign.