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Global union action against asbestos

13 May, 2015IndustriALL Global Union and its trade union affiliates from as far as Australia have been campaigning in Geneva, Switzerland this week in the fight to ban asbestos worldwide. 

***UPDATE: On 14 May 2015, four countries spoke out against listing chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention: Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe. In a surprise move, Brazil supported a listing.***

IndustriALL affiliates from Australian unions AMWU and CFMEU, as well as Unite in the UK, joined forces with victims’ groups and the Building and Wood Workers International union to protest outside the United Nations building on 12 May.

The demo took place as government representatives from over 160 countries are participating in a UN conference to decide whether to list chrysotile asbestos as a dangerous substance under the Rotterdam Convention.

“Do not be deceived by the lies of the ‪asbestos industry – all forms of asbestos kill,” said IndustriALL’s director of health and safety, Brian Kohler, in a powerful appeal to delegates taking part in the meeting.

A listing under the Convention would mean that countries importing chrysotile asbestos are made aware of its deadly properties.

However, asbestos producing countries such as Russia, Brazil and China are expected to veto a listing, as is major importer, India.

Speaking at the conference on 13 May, AMWU’s national president Andrew Dettmer, said:

It is a moral failure of significant magnitude that chrysotile asbestos is not listed under the Rotterdam Convention.

A strong pro-chrysotile campaign lobby, funded by Russia, is attempting to claim chrysotile asbestos is safe, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), that it is not.

An estimated 300 million people are being exposed to asbestos in countries where it is still being used, according to WHO.  

Sharad Sawant, an asbestosis sufferer from India brought to Geneva by the Australian affiliates, made a gripping intervention at the conference, providing first-hand testimony of the real dangers of chrysotile.

India has over 600 asbestos factories and many thousands of sufferers from asbestos-related diseases, which have no cure.

IndustriALL is running a two-week long publicity campaign on Geneva transport to remind conference participants and the wider public that asbestos is still in production and responsible for killing at least 100,000 people a year.

“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,” says Kohler.