Landmark Ban Asbestos Conference in China
Nearly two years of discussions, planning and organization came to fruition when the Asian Asbestos Conference 2009 (AAC) took place in Hong Kong from April 25-28, 2009. More than 200 hundred delegates from 24 countries joined proceedings which included plenary sessions, workshops, break-out groups, a photographic exhibition, video screenings, trips to examine asbestos contamination of local domestic buildings, demonstrations in Central Hong Kong to mark International Workers' Memorial Day (April 28), media interviews and a press conference.1 Leading ban asbestos campaigners from Asia, Latin America, North America, Europe and Australia joined eminent medical experts, legal professional, trade unionists, technicians and academics to present information on new developments in the global campaign to ban asbestos and obtain justice for the injured.
The AAC 2009 attracted considerable support from grassroots asbestos victims groups, labor federations and international organizations. The organizers the Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC), the Hong Kong Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), the Building and Woodworkers International and the International Metalworkers Federation were delighted to welcome to the event large contingents from mainland China, India, Japan, Korea and Indonesia as well as representatives from many other Asian countries. During the meeting representatives from the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and the International Commission on Occupational Health reiterated calls previously made by their organizations in support of a global ban on asbestos use.
As the aim of the AAC 2009 was the strengthening of the grassroots ban asbestos movement in Asia, discussion time was regarded as a key agenda priority. Open forums were held on April 25 and April 27 to enable a free and frank exchange of ideas; as a result of these sessions, a new organization was launched: the Asian Ban Asbestos Association (A-BAN), the purpose of which is to facilitate coordinated action throughout Asian countries on a variety of issues such as asbestos contamination of consumer products, holding negligent multinational corporations liable for tortious behaviour wherever they operate and raising asbestos awareness amongst workers, members of the public, the medical community and governments. A-BAN members come from asbestos victims' groups, trade unions and environmental justice organizations from 16 Asian Pacific countries.
Paying tribute to the work of the Hong Kong organizers of AAC 2009, Laurie Kazan-Allen, the IBAS Coordinator and one of the main sponsors of this event, said:
The Hong Kong event was a landmark meeting for many reasons. This was the first conference in China, the world's largest user of asbestos, at which members of the grassroots could engage in open discussions about the regional and global asbestos crisis. It was highly significant that so many key personnel from mainland China were able to take part in the proceedings. The formation of A-BAN will serve as an enduring legacy of the AAC 2009 and will ensure that the movement to ban asbestos will continue to spread throughout Asia, a region which accounts for almost 60% of annual worldwide asbestos consumption.
On April 27, AAC delegates unanimously approved The Hong Kong Declaration Towards a Complete Ban on all Forms of Asbestos which called for the: immediate cessation of all asbestos use, use of safer asbestos-free alternatives, improvements in the medical treatment of and financial provisions for the asbestos-injured, mandatory implementation of state-of-the-art techniques for asbestos removal work, recognition of and support for the vital work carried out by grassroots groups representing asbestos victims. A detailed report on the conference will be made available in due course on the IBAS website;2 the papers presented at the AAC and the powerpoints which accompanied them will be uploaded to the AMRC website by Summer 2009.3
|Apo Leong, Sanjiv Pandita, Elizabeth Tang, Chan Kam-Hong, Laurie Kazan- Allen and Annie Theboud-Mony.|
During the final session of the conference, AMRC's Director Sanjiv Pandita spoke of the collaborative effort which had been responsible for the success of an event at which translation was needed for Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese and English:
Drawing on the knowledge and expertise of our grassroots partners, we were able to identify potential delegates, select speakers and delineate a structure for the planned activities. As a result, the AAC 2009 attracted a cross-section of people from many Asian countries who were able to engage with the asbestos issues raised during the sessions The AMRC is committed to the ban asbestos campaign and will move forward from AAC 2009 to ensure that the objectives agreed upon in Hong Kong will be met.
May 5, 2009