Industry seeking to ‘sabotage’ global asbestos controls

Unions should take action to stop the asbestos industry once again ‘sabotaging’ efforts to better control its toxic exports, the global union for the construction sector has said.

BWI was speaking out ahead of a crucial conference to update the UN’s Rotterdam Convention list of especially hazardous substances subject to ‘prior informed consent’ (PIC) health warnings when they are exported. Past conferences, which take place every two years, have seen the blocking of every attempt to get chrysotile asbestos – the only form currently in production – added to the PIC list, after extensive lobbying by the industry.

A requirement for consensus – which is being challenged at this conference – means the asbestos lobby only has to enlist the support of one government to block the proposed listing. The latest Conference of Parties, to take place in Geneva from 24 April to 5 May, will see government representatives from 160 countries gather to discuss which hazardous substances should be listed. It will be the sixth time the conference will hear a UN recommendation that chrysotile asbestos be added to the PIC list.

“Chrysotile meets all the criteria for inclusion,” said Ambet Yuson, BWI’s 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 this Convention is fundamentally flawed.”

He added the requirement for unanimity should be removed “in order to put an end to this farcical situation, which completely undermines the credibility of this important international convention.”

Global union IndustriALL and international trade union confederation ITUC have also urged their affiliated unions to press for a change to the voting system, backing a proposal by a group of African nations. The recommends a switch to the 75 per cent approval system that exists already for the two other UN treaties dealing with hazardous substances and exports, the Basel and Stockholm conventions.

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