Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

ILO issues landmark decision on Asbestos

The International Labour Organization hands down important decision challenging Canada’s asbestos policy

This is a landmark development challenging the Canadian government’s asbestos policy on the international stage.

The ILO has said that the Canadian government must heed the reputable science on asbestos, must adopt the strictest standards to protect workers and must consult with workers.

Presently, the Canadian government ignores the scientific evidence on asbestos, provides the most inferior protection against asbestos of any industrialized country and does not consult with workers regarding its asbestos policy.

Below are:

1) A summary of the ILO Committee’s ruling by Lucien Royer of the Canadian Labour Congress
2) The presentation that was made to the Committee on June 10 by Barb Byers, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress

This is particularly embarrassing for the Harper government as it claims that the ILO supports its asbestos policy, which is completely untrue. It is also very embarrassing timing, as the government is about to take part in the Rotterdam Convention Conference of the Parties in Geneva in a couple of weeks and will, in the coming days, be challenged for sabotaging the Convention by preventing the listing of chrysotile asbestos.

Kathleen Ruff

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ILO issues landmark decision on Asbestos:

Review of laws & regulations necessary

Saturday June 11, 2011 – Geneva Switzerland

In its conclusions about a case on Canadian asbestos launched by Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) the International Labour Organisation (ILO) today issued a landmark decision that could create ripple effects on global campaigns to ban the product.

The decision by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards has told the Canadian government to adopt the “strictest standard limits for the protection of workers’ health as regards exposure to asbestos” and to engage in consultations with its worker and employer organizations on the application of sections of the ILO Asbestos Convention 162 for reviewing national laws and regulations.

In noting that the ILO Convention “placed an obligation on governments to keep abreast on technical progress and scientific knowledge”, the Committee called on Canada to “take into account the evolution of scientific studies, knowledge and technology since the adoption of the Convention, as well as the findings of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the ILO and other recognized organizations concerning the dangers of the exposure to asbestos.”

Yesterday at the ILO the CLC and other unions argued that Canada had consistently ignored scientific and technical information that pointed to the need for a total ban of the product.

The ruling introduces a new element for countries that have ratified ILO Convention 162, which requires periodical reviews in the light of technical progress and advances in scientific knowledge. It more clearly identifies that information about the elimination of asbestos from the WHO, ILO and other competent authorities must now fall within the scope of such reviews, putting an end to a practice by governments like Canada’s to ignore such information.

The decision is significant for countries that have ratified C162 but not yet banned asbestos: Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Russian Federation, Serbia, Macedonia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The decision is expected to add impetus for campaigns by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) and others for a total world-wide ban of all types of asbestos.

For more information
c/o CLC Lucien Royer []

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Canada called on carpet by ILO over asbestosPresented by Barbara Byers, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress, 10 June 2011 International Labour Organization has taken the unusual step of calling Canada to account regarding asbestos at a special hearing which occurred in Geneva on June 10. Canada is a signatory to ILO Convention 162 concerning the use of asbestos for workers and the ILO held the hearing because the CLC and other organizations believe that Canada has failed to review its laws and regulations regarding occupational exposure to asbestos. This puts workers at risk both in Canada and abroad because virtually all of Canada’s production is exported. The government was to present testimony and the Canadian Labour Congress was invited to present as well. The CLC supports a ban on Canada’s production and export of asbestos along with a just transition program for displaced workers in the industry.

(Check against delivery)

Thank you Chair,

In our view Canada has failed to review national laws and regulations governing occupational exposure to asbestos, and to take into account advances in technology and scientific knowledge, as is called for in Article 3 of Convention 162.

Because this has not taken place, the Canadian Labour Congress, as the largest and most representative organization of workers in our country, has never been consulted on the implication of recent knowledge and new technology as would be contemplated in Article 2.

Resulting consultations on this under Article 22 to promote education and the dissemination of information regarding the hazards of asbestos, have therefore not taken place.

Canada has indeed consulted with various components of the CLC over the years on various topics pertaining to this particular Convention. However, it has not consulted on the impacts of new information and technology relative to education of health hazards, prevention and control measures. Further, the government has not consulted us on the overall implementation of the Convention itself.

The Canadian government continues to pursue a policy that ignores the findings of the world's most competent authorities when it comes to issues related to cancer and is therefore undermining the intent of Article 3, to keep up to date on advances in information and technology.

Canada has ignored the advice of key global health authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) and its cancer research body, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the International Programme on Chemical Safety (a joint Programme of the ILO, WHO and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) all of which echo the same findings that chrysotile asbestos is not safe and causes mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

As stated in the 2006 WHO publication, Elimination of asbestos related diseases, “the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop using all types of asbestos”.

About 50 countries have banned asbestos, most of them are represented in this room. Each of them would have their own stories regarding the dangers of chrysotile asbestos and what they have done to ban it.

In 2006, International Labour Conference (ILC) adopted a resolution agreeing that the elimination of the future use of asbestos is the most effective means to protect workers from exposure and to prevent asbestos related diseases and deaths. ILO member states, including Canada, are expected to consider this resolution but it has been simply ignored.

Instead of acting accordingly, Canada continues to use unreliable data based on improper methodologies; such as biased measurements, unreliable sampling, faulty data and poor analysis. The arguments upon which Canada relies were refuted in almost every detail in 2003 in a critique of the Canadian Asbestos Mining Industry published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

This scholarly article claims the Canadian asbestos mining industry with a long history of manipulating scientific data to generate results it wanted, with the longer term effect of corrupting medical literature that continues to be used as the basis of Canadian arguments in favour of chrysotile asbestos.

Let me say there is near unanimity in the legitimate science community, both in Canada and abroad concerning the dangers of chrysotile asbestos. A ban on the production of asbestos is supported by the leading medical and public health agencies of Canada including:

The Canadian Medical Association
The Canadian Cancer Society
The Lung Association of Canada
The Canadian Public Health Association
The Quebec Medical Association
The Quebec Association for Public Health
The Lung Association of Quebec

It is perhaps most telling that asbestos is listed as a hazardous substance under Canadian law. Canada has instituted a practical ban on the use of asbestos within our country to protect the health of Canadians. Yet, paradoxically, Canada continues to export asbestos.

Two years ago, Canadian asbestos exports totalled 175,000 tons, all of it going to developing countries, including Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. The largest share, 43% of the total that is mined, was exported to India.

Even in countries where asbestos is banned today the incidence of asbestos related disease is still increasing. This epidemic in the developed world should start to decrease in the next ten to twenty years. But global production of chrysotile has not decreased. Based on their consumption, we should expect to see a pandemic of asbestos related diseases in developing countries.

The harsh reality can be seen in photos of people who are affected, photos of children walking through dumps full of asbestos waste from the largest manufacturer of chrysotile asbestos roofs in Indonesia. It is clear that the bags bear the logo LAB of Lab Chrysotile, from a Canadian asbestos mine. Is this what the Canadian government refers to as the “safe use of asbestos?”.

Canada needs to engage in sincere and goal-directed consultation with social partners to promote use of replacement products and alternative technology substitutes which currently exist and which are NOT classified as carcinogenic. Chair, about 250 Canadian jobs would be directly at stake if asbestos mines were shut down. Clearly this is a cause for concern but Canada can meet these losses by adopting a just transition plan immediately that includes compensation, retraining and re-employment.

The ILO can assist Canada in moving towards a total prohibition of the production and use of asbestos.

This is a realistic goal. Canadian workers in the asbestos industry need just transition. Canada needs to adopt a “National Programme for the Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases” (referred to as NPEAD). Ideally, this would be supplemented with a program, designed by the ILO and WHO, specifically for countries which continue to use asbestos but want to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.

Chair, there are many ways forward:

We know our government is preparing to reply to the Committee’s questions later this Fall. This would be an opportunity for the government of Canada to delineate a positive way forward.

One suggestion might be for the government to plan a tripartite process for examining NPEAD. This would be quite appropriate, as Canada will we hope soon announce the ratification of Convention 144 on tripartite consultation.

We propose that a plan which promotes dialogue inspired by reliable knowledge and technology be a key component of the way forward, and the way out of the paradoxical and unethical position in which Canada currently finds itself with respect to asbestos production and export.

Thank-you for the opportunity to speak. I would also like to thank the interpreters and thank you, Chair.


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