A global trade union campaign to stop the deadly trade in chrysotile asbestos is underway as the United Nations prepares to vote on whether to add the toxic mineral to a list of dangerous substances.
IndustriALL Global Union and its affiliate, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), are mounting pressure on countries preparing to vote on listing chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention at a UN conference in Geneva, Switzerland from 11 to 14 May.
The Convention lists other types of asbestos, but not chrysotile, which is just as deadly and the only type of asbestos still in commercial use.
A powerful advertising campaign on trams and buses running through the heart of Geneva is set to remind residents and conference visitors about the alarming dangers of asbestos. Beginning on 6 May, it will run for two weeks.
Next week a delegation from Australian unions including AMWU and another IndustriALL affiliate, CFMEU, as well as sufferers of asbestos from India will arrive in Geneva for a series of actions to support the campaign.
Asbestos causes cancer and lung diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, which have no cure. The World Health Organization estimates that 100,000 people a year die from exposure to asbestos.
And yet 2 million tonnes of chrysotile asbestos are still traded every year without any international regulation.
Although banned in 50 nations, in countries such as India and Indonesia, consumption is increasing.
Major asbestos exporters - Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan, as well as India, are set to veto restrictions on exporting chrysotile asbestos under the Convention.
“Listing chrysotile asbestos in the Convention requires every nation to agree, so these four nations must be held accountable for their veto, which is destroying thousands of lives,” said Andrew Dettmer, National President of AMWU.
Jyrki Raina, IndustriALL’s general secretary, said:
“The sickening trade in asbestos has to end. All asbestos kills. These countries need to take responsibility and stop mining asbestos and stop using it.”
A number of trade union affiliates have responded to the call from IndustriALL and written to their governments, demanding that they support the listing of chrysotile under the Convention at the Geneva conference next week.
IndustriALL has also been working with the Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI) global union in the campaign and in the joint publication Asbestos is a killer.