Asian Asbestos Initiatives
Over the last few months, the level of ban asbestos activism has been increasing throughout Asia. Recent developments include improvements to Japan's asbestos compensation regime, demonstrations and conferences in Korea, book launches in Hong Kong and India, ongoing discussions between activists and government officials in Malaysia, a workshop in Vietnam and academic conferences in Japan and India.
Success of Japanese Lobbying
In June 2008, following a sustained campaign by Ban Asbestos Japan (BANJAN), the 2006 Asbestos Victims Relief Law was amended. While the new regime, which will come into effect on December 1, 2008, is not perfect, some improvements have been made. Whereas previously the family of a deceased asbestos victim had to file a claimbefore March 27, 2009 to receive survivors' condolence allowance (approximately US$23,000) under the new rules the deadline has been extended to March 27, 2012. Under the original system, if a victim died without filing a claim, bereaved families would not receive relief benefits; those people whose claims succeeded would have to wait one month until they were entitled to payments for medical expenses and monthly benefits (worth about $850/month). Under the amended law, medical expenses and monthly benefits for asbestos-related disease will be back-dated until the date of diagnosis and if a victim dies without making a claim, his family is entitled to survivors' condolence allowance.
In October 2008, the Ministry of the Environment set up a scientific committee to investigate the possibility of extending government compensation to victims of non-occupational asbestos exposure who contract diseases other than mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer. BANJAN is calling for inclusion of asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases in the government scheme. According to BANJAN spokesman Sugio Furuya:
We will continue our campaign for fair and equal compensation for all asbestos victims and their families and for a basic law to tackle all aspects of Japan's asbestos legacy.
Birth of New Group in Korea
On July 3, 2008 the Ban Asbestos Network Korea (BANKO) was launched to a capacity audience meeting in Hoam Hall at Seoul National University.
|Prof. Paek announcing formation of BANKO.|
The birth of BANKO was the culmination of years of hard work during which time support was mobilized amongst asbestos victims and victims' groups, grassroots activists, environmentalists, trade unionists, academics and professionals. It was fitting that BANKO took its place on the international stage as the host of an international asbestos symposium which brought key ban asbestos activists to Korea from a dozen countries for a series of events including conferences in Seoul and Pusan, field trips to view the asbestos decontamination of the Seoul Metro system and to protest outside the premises of an asbestos textile factory in Pusan, a demonstration in downtown Seoul and a press conference at the national media center.
|Field trip to Seoul Metro.|
|Demonstration at Pusan asbestos factory.|
|Ban asbestos protest in Seoul.|
|International delegation briefs Korean media.|
International delegates also had the opportunity to meet informally with asbestos-injured workers, family members and local people who lived in close proximity to asbestos-polluting factories; they were able to visit the sites of contaminated schools and factories which continue to endanger public and occupational health. Amongst the many positive outcomes of the packed agenda of activities was the 2008 Pusan Declaration: For Asbestos Ban in Asia and the World which stated:
The use, manufacture and all trade of products containing all types of asbestos including chrysotile should be immediately banned throughout Asia and the World.1
New Resources, New Initiatives
Book launches on July 7 and September 25 in Hong Kong and Mumbai made revelations on the global asbestos scandal known to audiences in China and India. The subject of a meeting organized by the Asia Monitor Resource Centre at the Henry G. Leong Yaumatei Community Centre in Kowloon was the publication of the Chinese version of Killing the Future Asbestos Use in Asia.2 Author Laurie Kazan-Allen was amongst a panel of speakers which included Hong Kong asbestos victims, trade unionists and ban asbestos activists from Hong Kong and Japan.
|Book launch in Kowloon.|
On September 25, 2008, the monograph: India's Asbestos Time Bomb was simultaneously launched in Mumbai and Amsterdam; the event in India included: a talk by Dr. Sudhakar Kamat, a local medical expert on asbestos-related diseases and a contributing author to the new report, a photographic exhibition by P. Madhavan depicting the reality of asbestos use in India and a press conference. Twenty-five journalists attended this event.
In Malaysia, discussions on the feasibility of banning asbestos have been ongoing between the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and various government departments for some while. Although the use of crocidolite was banned in Malaysia in 1986, the use of other types of asbestos, including chrysotile, amosite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite, remains legal. According to government sources, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) and the Ministry of Human Resources have been acting to control hazardous occupational exposures and implementing recommendations on asbestos of international agencies such as the World Health Organization. In a letter sent to CAP on September 25, 2008, Dr. Haji Mohd Ismail Mericam, Director General of Health Malaysia, said that his Ministry, in cooperation with other government agencies, is taking efforts to monitor, reduce and eliminate exposure to asbestos (and) hopes that through these actions, public health will be protected, before a complete ban on asbestos is imposed in the country. In Vietnam, representatives from several ministries played a prominent role in an asbestos workshop held in Hanoi on August 12, 2008; technical presentations made by local experts documented the feasibility of producing asbestos-free roofing tiles.3
On October 1 & 2, The 2008 Asian Initiative for the Elimination of Asbestos Diseases took place in the Ramazzini Hall at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Japan. Sixty participants from eight countries included representatives from the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, national agencies in Vietnam, Korea and China and medical and scientific experts from Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. Taking advantage of 21st century technology, a parallel teleconference was held with the National University of Singapore. Subjects under discussion included: national asbestos experiences, technological gaps, transferable technologies and regional strategies for eliminating asbestos deaths.
In the coming months, the regional focus on asbestos issues will continue with events being planned in Japan and India. On November 22 & 23, 2008 Ritsumeikan University will host the International Conference on Asbestos at its Kyoto campus. Japanese, American and French medical and legal experts will compare the impact of the asbestos hazard in various countries and discuss national occupational compensation regimes with a view to identifying the most efficient system for delivering equitable payments for asbestos-related injuries.4 Asbestos will also be on the agenda of the conference Preventing Emerging Occupational and Environmental Risks in South Asia and Beyond which will be held at the India Habitat Center in New Delhi on January 12-14, 2009. The event is being organized by the Employee State Insurance Corporation of India with the participation of the Centre for Occupational & Environmental Health (New Delhi), the Collegium Ramazzini (Carpi, Italy), and Drexel University (Philadelphia, U.S.).
At the end of October 2008, asbestos activists from India will be attending the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention in Rome as part of a delegation of campaigners and groups determined to save the Rotterdam Convention from the onslaught of asbestos vested interests, including those of the Indian Government. Copies of the new monograph India's Asbestos Time Bomb will be distributed and a short film depicting the reality of asbestos use in India will be on show.
October 15, 2008
2 The Chinese version of Killing the Future can be accessed online at: http://worldasbestosreport.org/asbestosasia/chinese/toc.html
The Japanese , Bengali and English versions of Killing the Future can be accessed online at:
3 For more information on this meeting see: Kazan-Allen L. Major Breakthrough in Vietnam. September 17, 2008. http://ibasecretariat.org/lka_maj_brkthrough_vietnam.php