Asbestos Industry Offensive
This week the internet has been flooded by accusations against individuals and groups campaigning to ban asbestos.1 From the content of the articles, it seems more likely than not that the current public relations offensive originated in Russia, the country with the highest earnings from asbestos production and exports. The latest industry diatribes, most of which focus on the work of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), were not unexpected. Threats to the asbestos industry have traditionally been met by verbal attacks, legal action or physical intimidation.
Past examples of the bully-boy behaviour of asbestos profiteers are discussed in a paper just published by Drs. G. Tweedale and J. McCulloch that references the strong-arm tactics used against pioneers of the global movement to ban asbestos such as industry's derision of Nancy Tait, a libel lawsuit against Alan Dalton, a defamation lawsuit against ANDEVA, the French asbestos victims' group, and threats to Brazilian Labor Inspector Fernanda Giannasi.2
On countless occasions, the asbestos industry has accused its detractors of being ill-informed, hysterical and corrupt. The victims' action groups and IBAS have been branded by (asbestos) industrial interests as extremists or front organisations for greedy attorneys. These groups have also been attacked, Tweedale and McCulloch write for having little understanding of science or the developing world. At the 2008 meeting held by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a speaker from the Russian asbestos lobby alleged that a well-known global labor federation had adopted a ban asbestos policy because it had been bribed to do so by IBAS. The fact that the union had taken this position more than 15 years before IBAS had come into existence was something he omitted to mention. In Seoul, the Russian contingent consisted of 10+ delegates, including speakers, translators, and asbestos industry personnel. At the double-fronted exhibition booth, members of the delegation were distributing glossy industry propaganda which had been translated into several languages. When challenged by the IBAS Coordinator as to who was paying the delegation's formidable expenses, no answers were forthcoming. The IBAS contingent at the ILO event consisted of one person, no translator and no booth.
The slurs being circulated this week categorize ban asbestos campaigners as eco-terrorists and pseudo-environmentalists who are part of the powerful industry of the international anti-asbestos lobby a supranational industry of money-pumping. It would be ludicrous if it were not so tragic that the industry fat cats are attempting to portray themselves as victims of a global capitalist conspiracy. The reality is, of course, completely different. The genesis of the ban asbestos phenomenon has been the work of thousands of people over several decades. In many cases, it was the people whose lives had been devastated by asbestos loss who took up the challenge to protect society from asbestos. In the case of Nancy Tait, it was:
The experience of fighting the systematic obstructionism of employers, the government, and the medical community (that) transformed Tait into an asbestos activist, who attempted to highlight the dangers of asbestos and also fight for better compensation.
In addition to the 37 campaigning organizations listed in the paper by Tweedale and McCulloch are scores of smaller bodies working in other asbestos hotspots around the world.
The company executives, industry front men (and, in Brazil, front woman), politicans, and scientists who are well remunerated for their services to the industry can only understand the grassroots movement against asbestos within the context of their own skewed value system. If money is their motivating force, they believe that others must be similarly hardwired. Trying to explain to asbestos pushers the principles which motivate their critics is like trying to describe a sunset to someone born without sight. Perhaps some time spent in the company of people dying of asbestos cancer might open their eyes; perhaps not.
Whether or not the asbestos defenders are ready for the demise of the asbestos milch cow is irrelevant. Progress is represented by those mobilizing around the world to end the decades of destruction wrought by this industry and not by those desperate for yet one more asbestos dividend. While attacking their critics might be cathartic for the old guard, it will not change the course of history. There is no place in the future for this dying industry.
January 29, 2011
1 How the anti-asbestos lobby manipulates public opinion. January 27, 2011.
The source of this text was given as Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a newspaper published by the Russian State. Using an internet translation service, the Russian version of this article was located; it was published in December 22, 2010 in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Other versions of the same English text have also been seen elsewhere on the internet:
2 Tweedale G, McCulloch J. Fighting Back: A History of Victims' Action Groups and the Ban Asbestos Movement. IBAS. January 2011.