African countries launch action to end sabotage of UN Convention on trade of hazardous substances

Wed, Nov 23, 2016

Asbestos, Health

Global asbestos lobby immediately attacks them

Kathleen Ruff,

For the past decade a tiny number of countries allied to the asbestos industry have sabotaged the United Nations Rotterdam Convention. Led first by Canada and now by Russia, they have prevented the Convention from implementing its mandate to protect populations in the global South from being harmed by hazardous substances.

The Convention, which is science-based, was created to end the double standard under which known hazardous substances, such as asbestos, that are banned and regulated in Western countries, are being massively exported to countries in the global South without warnings or protective measures, along with industry marketing claiming the product is safe.

The purpose of the Convention is to control trade in hazardous substances. It requires that countries must obtain Prior Informed Consent before exporting any substance that is on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances. It thus provides a basic human right and a practical tool for developing countries, enabling them to refuse, or set conditions, over import of hazardous substances into their country.

Currently decisions to put a substance on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances can only be made by consensus. A tiny handful of countries – sometimes just one country – have thumbed their nose at scientific evidence and the wishes of the overwhelming majority of countries and blocked consensus, thus preventing implementation of the Convention.

A Convention that is not implemented is not worth much.

A dozen African countries (Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia) have now taken action to break this deadly deadlock. They have proposed an amendment to the Convention which they hope will be approved at the upcoming 8th Conference of the Parties (COP8) in Geneva in April-May 2017. The amendment would enable decisions to be taken by a 75% majority vote when achieving consensus proves impossible.

It would put an end to the ability of a tiny number of countries under the influence of hazardous industries to sabotage the Convention.

International Chrysotile Association attacks

The asbestos lobby organisation (International Chrysotile Association), still based in Quebec, immediately attacked the African initiative. In a letter sent from Montreal on October 31, 2016 to the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention, the President of the International Chrysotile Association (ICA), Jean-Marc Leblond, demanded that the amendment proposed by the African countries be rejected. Leblond was Vice President in charge of sales for LAB Chrysotile in Thetford Mines, Quebec, shipping asbestos around the world for decades. As well as being President of the ICA, LeBlond has his own company, Polyser Inc., which provides consulting and international representation services, presumably for asbestos mining and selling companies.

The eleven directors of the ICA have financial interests in exporting asbestos. Seven (two from Russia, two from Kazakhstan, two from Brazil and one from Zimbabwe) are involved in exporting asbestos or asbestos products. The other four (from India, Mexico, USA and Leblond from Quebec) sell asbestos products or work for the asbestos lobby.

It is shameless conduct on the part of the ICA that, in order to protect their profits, they are working aggressively to destroy a basic human right under international law that would enable countries in the global South to control import of hazardous substances and protect their populations and environment from harm.

Agricultural workers exposed to harm

The issue goes beyond asbestos. Other hazardous industries are copying the sabotage tactics that Canada pioneered. A tiny number of countries, whose governments are closely allied to the agro-chemical industry, have blocked the listing of hazardous pesticides and chemicals that are causing severe illness and death among agricultural workers in the global South. For example, the recommendation to list trichlorfon was blocked by just one country, India. Four countries – Guatemala, India, Indonesia, and Paraguay – have twice blocked the listing of Paraquat. Fenthion was blocked by one country – Sudan.

The asbestos industry and the agro-chemical industry will, as is their practice, be out in full force at COP8 and will throughout the next few months be lobbying governments to oppose the amendment. A 75% majority vote will be required for the amendment to succeed.

After a decade of industry sabotage of the Convention, the African countries have said enough is enough. At the upcoming Conference in April 2017, the 156 Parties to the Convention will decide whether to support the initiative by the African countries and end this shameless sabotage.

The survival of the Rotterdam Convention and the right of populations in the global South to be protected from deadly substances will be on the line.



One Response to “African countries launch action to end sabotage of UN Convention on trade of hazardous substances”

  1. David Trigg. Says:

    I had the pleasure of taking part in a lobby/demonstration at the CoP 7 meeting in Geneva and was totally shocked that one nation, yes 1, can cause a proposal to fall, so when 4 nations voted to oppose chrysotile being added to the list of hazards to be identified as such to the citizens of the importing nations, whilst being very disappointed, I was not too shocked. I did though vow to raise the issue upon my return to the U K. This I have done through my trade union in the U K, Unite the union.

    I now hope that this proposal from the group of African nations is successful and that chrysotile is added to the list of hazardous substances.

    David Trigg.
    Honorary Chair. D. A. S. T.

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