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ITUC Condemns Asbestos

ITUC Condemns Exclusion of Asbestos and Endosulfan from Global Export Regulation

Brussels, 10 November 2008 (ITUC OnLine): The ITUC has condemned the decision to exclude chrysotile asbestos and the pesticide endosulfan from the list of dangerous products under the Rotterdam Convention, the international agreement which regulates exports of hazardous chemicals.

“Industry lobbies and the profit motive have tragically prevailed over the safety of workers and consumers with the refusal to include these two highly dangerous substances from the coverage of this Convention” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder, adding that “Governments must move urgently to correct this mistake, which leaves the health of many thousands of workers in mining, construction, agriculture and other sectors at grave risk”.

Under the Rotterdam Convention, governments maintain a list of dangerous substances which may only be exported according to the principle of “Prior Informed Consent” (PIC) – exporting countries must get specific permission from potential importing countries before the substances can be shipped. According to the rules of procedure of the Rotterdam Convention, chemicals can only be added to the PIC list if signatories to the 1998 convention reach consensus.

At the most recent meeting on the Convention, seven asbestos-importing countries (India, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Ukraine and Vietnam) supported asbestos-exporting Kazakhstan in opposing the PIC-listing. Other exporters (Brazil, Canada, Russia and Zimbabwe) are known to oppose restrictions on the trade in asbestos, despite the huge toll of death and disease it is known to cause.

Endosulfan, a neurotoxin which is poisonous to the human nervous system and is also believed to affect reproduction, is used as a pesticide in production of cotton, food crops and animal feed. As one of the more toxic pesticides available, its dangers to agricultural workers in particular and to consumers in general, are well documented. Alternative chemicals exist for all of its uses, but endosulfan is often preferred by producers because it is cheaper.

“Instead of governments responding to the urgent need to protect, this development underlines the powerful influence of a few vested interests and poses extremely serious questions about the credibility of the Rotterdam Convention. Transparent and democratic decision-making should replace the current practice where collusion between powerful industry lobbies and a few countries can allow commercial gain to push public health aside. The legitimate concerns of the great majority of countries and the clear weight of scientific evidence have been ignored with this inexcusable decision”, said Ryder.


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