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A Global Ban on Asbestos?
Is a global ban on asbestos possible?
A global Ban on Asbestos
There are now over fifty countries that have implemented a comprehensive ban on the manufacturing, use and trade of all types of asbestos and asbestos containing products, including Australia in 2003. Whilst the majority of countries are developed countries, there are significant examples of developing countries recognising the public health costs of using asbestos that will in the long run outweigh the short term economic gain. Such countries include Oman (2001), Egypt (2004), Honduras (2004), Jordan (2005), New Caledonia (2007) and South Africa (2008), for example.
Trade union federations have been at the forefront of the international asbestos ban and restriction debate for some years, spurred on by their national affiliates. Australian unions such as the Australian Manufacturing Worker's Union (AMWU) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) have catalysed the union debates around trade union federations supporting bans.
For example, Building and Woodworkers International (BWI), the International Metalworkers Federation, representing 25 million workers and the Trade Union International of Workers in the Building, Wood, Building Materials and Allied Industries (UITBB), have actively been advocating for international bans. These global union federations are representative of the two global union congresses and represent the workers most at risk of asbestos related diseases.
In April 2009, the Asian Asbestos Congress, supported by a range of unions, including Building Workers International and the International Metal Workers Federation, and non-government organisations across Asia issued the 'Hong Kong Declaration towards a Complete Ban on All Forms of Asbestos'. The declaration calls for an eventual complete ban on the trade, use and export of all forms of asbestos. The declaration importantly recognises that there will be a transitional period until safer asbestos alternatives are fully utilised and in the meantime, workers need to be protected with strict occupational health and safety measures. The declaration also recognises that a ban on asbestos will not be the end point of the anti-asbestos diseases movement; there are thousands of tonnes of asbestos still in use that will have to be replaced, putting not only workers but families and other occupants of asbestos contaminated buildings. On top of this the public health disaster of years of unsafe asbestos use is yet to be felt, but will be felt hard, as we know from the experience of countries such as Australia.
The United Nations has also recognised the threat of asbestos to worker health. The governing body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) passed the C162 Asbestos Convention in 1986, calling upon nation states to work to prevent occupational cancer and lung disease caused by asbestos. Similarly, the World Health Organization issued a guidance entitles "Elimination of asbestos - related diseases" which specifically notes that the most comprehensive way to prevent asbestos related disease would be to stop the use of asbestos. Two other important principles are for measures to prevent exposure to asbestos and to improve diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for people with asbestos-related disease.
The Rotterdam Convention
The convention promotes open exchange of information and calls on exporters of hazardous chemicals to use proper labelling, include directions on safe handling, and inform purchasers of any known restrictions or bans. Signatory nations can decide whether to allow or ban the importation of chemicals listed in the treaty, and exporting countries are obliged make sure that producers within their jurisdiction comply.
In the Council of the Parties 5 (COP 5) meeting in Geneva in June 2011 again failed to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance with objections recorded by Canada, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam. Crucially India changed its longstanding objection and voted for listing but because there was no consensus it was not listed. Australia has been at the forefront of lobbying for the listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention.
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA
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