Progress of Ban Asbestos Campaign
Major developments from around the world this month evidence growing support for the ban asbestos campaign. Seen as part of a worldwide trend, increasing public awareness of the asbestos hazard in India and Thailand, judicial endorsement of claims from injured British asbestos victims and the withdrawal of support by trade unionists and federal politicians for the Canadian asbestos industry prove that there is no place for asbestos in the 21st century.
A visit to Mumbai and Ahmedabad by Professor Annie Thébaud-Mony, Director of Research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, provided the opportunity for a series of meetings, interviews and roundtables to compare the asbestos legacies in France and India, highlight areas for further exploration and delineate joint initiatives.
Professor Thébaud-Mony meeting asbestos victims in Mumbai.
Current asbestos workers and former workers as well as family members of asbestos victims informed Professor Thébaud-Mony of the harsh reality they face; while medical doctors reinforced the message that India's asbestos victims remain unassisted by former employers as well as unacknowledged by the authorities. Legal specialists confirmed the huge logistical challenge of bringing compensation cases for the injured while medical professionals spoke of a discernable increase in the number of patients with asbestos-related diseases. Pledging support for efforts by Indian campaigners to assist the injured and end the national use of asbestos, Professor Thébaud-Mony called for the establishment of an International Criminal Court for Labour and the Environment to hold negligent corporations, company officials and governments to account for the harm they have done by permitting the use of asbestos.
Professor Thébaud-Mony in discussion with healthcare professionals and academics.
A week after the meetings in India, academics from Thailand and Japan held a Press Conference (March 11) in Bangkok entitled: Management towards asbestos banning by Thai academics.
Presentations by the speakers discussed the growth of the Thai ban asbestos movement, the progress being made in achieving a national ban and the need to develop medical expertise in Thailand to diagnose and treat victims of asbestos disease.
Press conference speakers panel, March 11, 2011
This meeting was held after the completion of The 20th Asian Conference on Occupational Health (ACOH) which took place in the Thai capital on March 9-11, 2011. During the ACOH, speakers from Japan, China and Thailand addressed the health challenge posed by asbestos exposures in sessions entitled:
The controversy of how or even if asbestos victims should be compensated for their injuries is hotly contested. As the number of mesothelioma victims has grown in the United Kingdom, so too has resistance from defendant corporations, government departments and the insurance industry. The exploration of legal loopholes for guilty parties has provided a profitable pastime for solicitors and barristers who have been creative in developing potential get-out clauses for their clients. A ruling handed down on March 9, 2011 by the Supreme Court, formerly the Law Lords, was a definitive victory for victims of low level and sporadic exposure to asbestos like mesothelioma patients Dianne Willmore and Enid Costello, both of whom died from their injuries.2 Highlighting the wider implications of this case, Tony Whitston, Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups' Forum UK, said:
This case involved the wrongful exposure of two people to asbestos, which caused their deaths. There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos. Arguments for a 'safe' threshold are everything to do with denying liability for compensation and nothing to do with protecting people. This case not only protects compensation for those who have been negligently exposed to low levels of asbestos, but also gives a warning to those who think that workplaces such as schools, which are heavily contaminated with asbestos, are low risk.
The culmination of the recent run of bad news for the asbestos industry was a slew of adverse developments in Canada. At the beginning of March, the Canadian federal government declined to allocate funding for the Chrysotile Institute (CI) for 2011-12. Although other financial support might be forthcoming through less public routes, it seems likely that the shutdown of this source of funding could impact on the survival of the CI, widely regarded not only as the mouthpiece of the Canadian asbestos industry but also as the coordinating force behind the global asbestos lobby.
A few days later the results of a vote (March 11, 2011) by delegates to the annual meeting of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTA), Quebec's second largest trade union federation,3 provided more gloom for the asbestos spin doctors. By an overwhelming majority, CNTU members voted to end Canada's asbestos mining and help develop a just transition strategy for affected workers. Furthermore, the CNTU called on the Quebec Liberal government not to provide a $58 million loan to investors planning to open a new mine which would provide a 25 year supply of asbestos.4 As if all of this was not enough to send the industry fat cats into meltdown, a member of the Parti Quebecois a stalwart pro-asbestos ally submitted a parliamentary question requesting that a legislative committee investigate criticism by public health agencies regarding the safe use of asbestos in Quebec and abroad.5
As has been shown on previous occasions, the asbestos industry is at its most dangerous when cornered. There is no doubt that even now feverish plotting is underway to put in motion strategies to counter the negative publicity, growing opposition and unexpected desertions by former supporters. All things considered, it might just be time for the Chrysotile Institute lobbyists and commercial and government stakeholders to accept that the time has come to shut up shop.
March 14, 2011
2 Kazan-Allen L. A Righteous Decision for UK Mesothelioma Victims. March 9, 2011
3 Schneider A. Union members put human rights and lives above asbestos jobs. March 11, 2011.
4 Dobbin M. Two big victories in the fight against asbestos. March 10, 2011.
5 Asbestos industry comes under more scrutiny; PQ calls for Quebec debate. March 11, 2011.