Asian Development Bank Bans Asbestos!
Ending the asbestos slaughter around the world was never going to be easy. With billions of dollars at stake, asbestos vested interests use fair means and foul to forestall actions that negatively affect their profits. Despite their efforts, however, the global consensus regarding the asbestos hazard now reaches from the depths of the grassroots to the heights of international agencies.1 On November 9, 2020, Bruce Dunn, Director of the Asian Development Banks Safeguards Division, confirmed the banks intention to prohibit the use of all asbestos-containing products on ABD projects.2 In a communication to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, Mr. Dunn stated:
We are aware of the severe health effects that an exposure to ACMs [asbestos-containing materials] can have on people exposed to this material. For this reason, ADB is taking several actions intended to limit the risks of asbestos exposure in our projects:
Rest assured that ADB is committed to drive a safe, healthy, and sustainable development in our DMCs [developing member countries]. We believe that we are taking the necessary steps to ensure that the risks to the potential presence of ACMs in our project (sic) are avoided or mitigated to the full extent possible.3
The ADB had first announced its intention to close an existing loophole allowing the use of bonded asbestos cement sheeting composed of less than 20% asbestos fiber in ADB projects at the end of last year (2019) when an ADB representative confirmed that:
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has since 2009 explicitly prohibited ADB financing for the production of, trade in, or use of unbonded asbestos fibers. However, the purchase and use of bonded asbestos cement sheeting where asbestos content was less than 20% has been permitted. This was consistent with prevailing industry standards and safety guidance. Given increased concerns regarding the potential risks of these products, ADB is now taking steps to address this. From 2020, ADB will refrain from financing any new projects containing any presence of asbestos; this update will be reflected in the next review of ADBs Safeguard Policy Statement.
Commenting on the significance of the ADBs asbestos prohibitions, Sugio Furuya, from the Asian Ban Asbestos Network, said:
Asian countries account for the majority of asbestos consumed every year. This substance deemed too hazardous to be used in the industrialized world is used in countries with few, if any, health and safety regulations and no capacity to treat people suffering from debilitating and potentially fatal asbestos-related diseases. The profile of the ADB in these countries cannot be over-emphasized. With its budget of around $22 billion per year, the Bank not only provides funding for infrastructure and economic development projects but also sets the tone for decision-makers, governments and other lenders. The Banks prohibition of asbestos sends out a signal loud and clear that there is no place in the 21st century for asbestos.
Welcoming the clarification of the ADBs timetable for updating its Safeguard Policy Statement (SPS), Kate Lee from Australia's Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA) said:
For a decade now, APHEDA has been working with partnering organizations, including trade unions, consumer groups and NGOs, in Southeast Asia alerting them to the asbestos hazard. Time and again we have seen the science and evidence supporting an asbestos phase-out undermined by vested interests citing the ADBs policy which allowed the use of some asbestos-cement building products to continue. So for several years we have also focused on a campaign to convince the ADB and other global banks to reverse this policy. In 2019, a motion proposed in the Australian Senate called on the Government to lobby for a change in policy to end the use of asbestos in Asian Development Bank financed projects. A fortnight later, the ABD announced it would refrain from financing any new products with asbestos from 2020. The asbestos prohibition promised in the banks revised Safeguard Policy Statement cannot come soon enough! 4
November 16, 2020
1 Asbestos Policies of Major International Agencies.
2 The Asian Development Bank is an international development finance institution dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through loans technical assistance, grants, and equity investments to promote social and economic development.
3 Electronic letter dated November 9, 2020 from Bruce Dunn to Laurie Kazan-Allen, IBAS Coordinator.
4 Australian Parliament Hansard. Motion by Senator Faruqi. November 27, 2019 [page 4399].
Anthony, K. Asian Development Bank called out for asbestos use in Pacific projects. December 19, 2019.