Unionists Back Asbestos Ban
Trade unions in Latin America were at the forefront of national campaigns to ban asbestos in Chile and Argentina; now similar action is being taken by trade unionists from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela who are mobilizing the Andean Community1 to tackle the region's asbestos problem. Sixteen trade union confederations from the five Andean countries cooperated with the research for a project commissioned by the Andean Labour Institute entitled Ban Asbestos in the Andean Sub-Region (in Spanish: Por la prohibicion del amianto o asbesto en la Subregion Andina). The report, written by Eva Delgada Rosas and published in 2007, provides information about six decades of asbestos use by Andean countries and includes details such as the following:
most asbestos used in Andean countries is imported, with the majority coming from Canada;
no one knows how many workers are exposed to asbestos or how many people have occupationally contracted asbestos-related diseases; even though 3 of the Andean countries have ratified ILO Convention 162 (Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador), there is no enforcement of the Convention;
regional use of asbestos is principally for asbestos-cement, friction materials and textiles;
accurate figures for national consumption are unavailable but it is estimated that in 2004, Venezuela and Peru imported 4,000 t and 4,600 t respectively; in 2005, Colombia imported 19,000 t of Canadian asbestos. Figures for Ecuador and Bolivia are unobtainable;
national subsidiaries of the European multinational, Etex, operate in Colombia and Peru under the name of Eternit; Eternit is also in Ecuador;
while the Governments of Venezuela and Peru are considering the feasibility of banning asbestos, the Governments of Colombia and Bolivia are opposed to such action. The Government of Ecuador is undecided.
The report highlights the serious environmental hazard caused by the dumping of asbestos-containing waste, especially in the lagoon of Alalay in Cochamabamba, Bolivia and the Rimac River in Lima, Peru.2 The authors conclude that:
the lack of regulation of working practices creates a climate in which asbestos imports are increasing; economic crises lead to less supervision of occupational conditions and fewer environmental controls;
asbestos stakeholders have promoted the concept of controlled use as a way of whitewashing the image of chrysotile asbestos; national governments and consumers have been misled by aggressive marketing campaigns which have hidden the true hazards of this carcinogenic material;
doctors and medical professionals remain unaware or unwilling to speak out about the asbestos hazard; public awareness of the asbestos hazard is low;
a systematic and detailed analysis of asbestos issues in Andean countries is required; trade unions, working with other social actors, have a vital role to play in raising regional awareness of the consequences of continuing asbestos use.
February 25, 2007
1 The Andean Community is a trade bloc representing the interests of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.