Uproar over UN Asbestos Debacle 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



On Monday and Tuesday of next week, March 30 and 31, 2015, asbestos lobbyists will be hosted in Geneva at the expense of European taxpayers.1 The European Union is underwriting the costs of bringing nineteen asbestos industry and government stakeholders to Europe to take part in yet another talking shop on chrysotile (white) asbestos. Given the unproductive outcome of so many previous encounters, it belies belief that yet more money – and OUR money at that – is being thrown at people who represent an industry which peddles death and pollution around the globe.2 Amongst the guests are individuals representing asbestos industry trade associations from India (Mr. Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association), Ukraine (Mr. Oleksandr Sierkin, Association Ukrainian Chrysotile Corporation) and Zimbabwe (Mr. Shame Chibvongodze, Zimbabwe National Chrysotile Taskforce).

The Technical Workshop on Chrysotile Asbestos is being organized by the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat for countries which produce, export and/or consume chrysotile asbestos. Of the twelve stakeholder countries taking part,3 seven – Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and India – blocked the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention in 2013; substances on this list are subjected to minimal global trade regulations.

An article about next week’s meeting entitled: “Farcical Technical Workshop on Chrysotile in Rotterdam Convention” was uploaded today (March 26, 2015) to the website of the Building and Woodworkers International. It is quite explicit about its view of the industry freebie:

“The asbestos mafia will ensure that the concerns of the industry are heard and will shout down anyone who disagrees with them. Their vested interests prevent them from accepting the international scientific consensus on the need to use safer substitutes for deadly chrysotile asbestos. Just like the tobacco industry, the politics of denial of risk and the drive for profits blinds them to reasoned arguments.”4

Coincidentally, today the first of a series of public meetings was held to highlight the Indian government’s support for the asbestos veto. The press release issued by the organizers of the Mumbai event stated that:

“Contrary to the claims of the asbestos industry and the Indian Government, over 500 cases of disease caused by exposure to white asbestos have been diagnosed from two factories in Mumbai. There have been hundreds more cases diagnosed around the country.”

The 100 people who gathered to watch the documentary entitled: Victims of Chrysotile Asbestos – Voices from South East Asia condemned the Indian government’s determination to block the listing of chrysotile on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. Among those present were asbestos victims, some of whom featured in the film, campaigners, lawyers, doctors and journalists. The meeting concluded with a unanimous agreement that the only solution to India’s asbestos epidemic was a complete ban on future use and a national eradication policy. More meetings will be held in key Indian cities in the run-up to the Rotterdam Convention Conference of the Parties in May 2015.

The Building and Woodworkers and other labor federations are making the listing of chrysotile a priority topic for this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28. BWI affiliates are being mobilized to press their governments to vote for inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on Annex III by the BWI General Secretary: “Chrysotile meets all the criteria for inclusion, so it is quite outrageous that this is being blatantly and persistently blocked by other exporting countries. We need all governments to push the exporting nations to behave responsibly.”5

Next week’s jolly for asbestos profiteers in Geneva is inexcusable. The fact that the final item on the draft agenda of the two-day meeting is “Compiling (positive) messages of the workshop participants” is of great concern. There can be little doubt that the industry delegates and government stakeholders attending will agree on one thing and one thing only: “As chrysotile asbestos can be used safely, there is no need to add it to Annex III of the Convention.” Inviting them to a session where they will be unchallenged by representatives of asbestos victims and trade unions gives them carte blanche to reiterate ad nauseum deadly industry propaganda. The Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention should be ashamed of its collusion with these asbestos deniers.

It is widely believed that chrysotile asbestos will be the final nail in the coffin of the Rotterdam Convention. Considering the ill-advised efforts of the Secretariat and its failure to come to grips with the constitutional changes required to implement a two thirds majority rule, it is hard to disagree with that assessment.

March 26, 2015


1 Kazan-Allen L. Who Is Informing the UN’S Asbestos Debate? February 23, 2015.

2 If as an EU taxpayer you object to this use of your money, feel free to email Juergen Helbig, the principle policy officer in Environment Directorate-General at: Juergen.Helbig@ec.europa.eu

3 They are: Brazil, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Ukraine.

4 Farcical Technical Workshop on Chrysotile in Rotterdam Convention - Asbestos Industry junket to Geneva. March 26, 2015. http://www.bwint.org/default.asp?Index=6147&Language=EN

5 Chrysotile and the Rotterdam Convention - ACT NOW! March 26, 2015.



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