On 28 April, the International Day to Commemorate Dead and Injured Workers, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate trade unions from all corners of the globe demonstrated in Geneva, Switzerland, demanding an end to the asbestos trade.
More than 100,000 people die each year from asbestos-related diseases. Around two million tonnes of asbestos are mined and sold every year, with most exports going to the developing world.
Around 100 IndustriALL affiliates, currently in Geneva for IndustriALL’s Executive Committee meeting, were joined by representatives from global unions, BWI and UNI, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions in the demonstration outside the United Nations. Trade unions want the Rotterdam Convention, a UN treaty, to put chrysotile asbestos on its list of hazardous substances to help stop the asbestos trade.
IndustriALL President, Jörg Hofmann, said at the rally:
“On this 28 April, a day of mourning for workers killed and injured on the job, I am in mourning for the millions who have been killed by asbestos. Millions of workers, their family members, and people who just happened to live in the communities that surround or surrounded the asbestos mines, mills and factories, past and present.
“Do not be deceived by the lies of the asbestos industry – all forms of asbestos kill. Chrysotile is not somehow magically different from other forms of asbestos, and saying so will not make it so. The global labour movement has looked at the science, has looked at our dead and dying sisters and brothers, and we demand a global ban on ALL forms of asbestos.”
The demonstration held a minute’s silence for those who have died from asbestos exposure and then marched from the UN to the conference centre in Geneva where the eighth conference of the parties to the Rotterdam Convention is currently meeting.
The Rotterdam Convention requires that dangerous substances on its list be traded with prior informed consent from importing countries, and with full disclosure of their harmful properties. However, chrysotile asbestos is repeatedly blocked from being added to the Convention’s list by a handful of countries that profit from the asbestos trade, such as Russia and Kazakhstan.
IndustriALL supports a proposal from a group of 12 African nations to amend Article 22 of the Rotterdam Convention, so that no single country can veto a deadly substance from being added to the list. Instead, a 75 per cent majority of voting parties would be sufficient.
IndustriALL affiliates later approved for an escalation of the campaign against asbestos at the Executive Committee meeting. The resolution includes clauses to:
- Support the amendment of Article 22 of the Rotterdam Convention, removing the requirement for unanimity to list asbestos for the prior informed consent process.
- Take immediate steps to ban all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials as soon as possible.
- Take immediate steps to develop national action programmes for the elimination of asbestos related diseases following the guidance of the International Labour Office and the World Health Organization, in all countries, whether or not they already have a ban.