Support amendment to Rotterdam Convention for listing of chrysotile asbestos at COP 8

asbestos1Letter by Jagdish Patel, National Coordinator, Occupational & Environmental Health Network of India (OEHNI), to Anil Madhav Dave, Union Minister of Environment and Forests, ahead of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention 25th April – 4th May 2017:

Kindly refer to our earlier communication dated 9 February, 2017 in this regard. We are writing again to urge the Government, as a party to the Rotterdam Convention, to support the amendment to the Rotterdam Convention that a group of twelve African countries have submitted to the Secretariat and that will be discussed at the COP 8.

We are also writing to urge the government to support the listing of Chrysotile asbestos onto Annex III at the COP 8. In India we have adequate evidence of Chrysotile being hazardous to the health of the workers. 1700 workers employed by Turner & Newall (T&N) affiliates in India have been compensated for the Asbestos related diseases. Several others have been compensated by ESI Corporation. Please find attached letter written by T&N in June 2016. Latest figure is 1700 as quoted above. Past asbestos mine workers in Rajasthan have been identified to be suffering from Asbestos related diseases by NIOH and Government of Rajasthan under ReHAB is paying relief amount to the victims.

According to the Report of the Working Group on Environmental and Occupational Health in India, there are two to three million active workers suffering from exposure to asbestos and other dangerous fibers. Asbestos is not only occupational hazard but an environmental hazard, too. Among the 1700 that have been compensated by T&N, several are family members of the asbestos workers who had secondary exposure and now suffer from asbestos related diseases.

Proposed amendment to Article 22 of the Rotterdam Convention

The amendment is being proposed to resolve serious procedural problems that are threatening the core objective of the convention.

Currently decisions to place a substance on the list can be made only by consensus. This has created an impasse whereby a tiny number of countries can block the recommendations of the Convention’s expert scientific committee (Chemical Review Committee) as well as the will of the vast majority of countries, to add a particular substance to Annex III, even though the recommendation fully meets the criteria for listing. For example, four of the eight chemicals to be considered by COP 8 for listing onto Annex III are those previously blocked despite recommendations by the committee for listing.

The amendment to Article 22 would resolve the problem by still promoting consensus decision making where possible, but also allowing decisions to place a substance on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances (Annex III) to be taken by a 75 per cent majority vote, if achieving consensus has proven impossible.

Crucially this amendment also supports synergy with the Stockholm and Basel Conventions. The amendment would bring the voting procedure for Rotterdam Convention in line with that operating within these related Conventions.

Consensus decisions have grown more difficult over the last decade as more countries join the Convention.

This is causing increasing frustration among most of the 157 Parties to the Convention and is putting the Convention in a crisis situation.

630asbestosaWhen a substance has been put on the Convention’s list, countries must obtain Prior Informed Consent from the country that would import it before exporting the substance. The Convention thus provides a practical tool enabling countries to control their borders and protect the health of their populations more effectively. It does not ban any chemical.

Amending the Convention to allow for the possibility of a 75 per cent majority vote will create an incentive to reach consensus decisions. It would allow the Convention to function effectively. It would also provide an incentive for the small number of countries disagreeing with listing a particular chemical to move to compliance.

If the current impasse continues, the Convention’s mandate of ensuring responsible trade in hazardous substances will have proven to be unworkable.

We are therefore urging the Government and all Parties to the Convention to support the amendment that has been submitted by the African countries.

Chrysotile listing onto Annex III at COP 8 of the Rotterdam Convention

If successful, the amendment to Article 22 will not come into effect immediately. We urge the government to therefore support the listing of Chrysotile asbestos at COP 8.

Chrysotile asbestos has been recommended for listing by the expert scientific committee since COP 3 in 2006. For 5 meetings the listing has been blocked by a small number of mostly chrysotile exporting countries despite the scientific evidence and the will of the majority of countries. We urge the government to respect the scientific process and help protect our population by voting to support the listing of chrysotile onto Annex III at COP 8.

We request that you please inform us what position the Government will take with regard to the proposed amendment and the listing of chrysotile asbestos onto Annex III.

Following organizations endorsed the letter:

  • Building and Wood Workers International, Delhi
  • Occupational Health and Safety Centre, Mumbai
  • Occupational Health and Safety Association, Ahmedabad
  • Mine Labor Protection Campaign, Jodhppur
  • ENVIRONICS Trust, New Delhi
  • National Trade Union Initiative, New Delhi
  • Centre for Indian Trade Union, New Delhi
  • All India Trade Union Council, New Delhi
  • Hind Mazdoor Sabha, New Delhi
  • International Transport Federation, Asia Pacific Region, New Delhi
  • UNI Global Union, Asia & Pacific, New Delhi
  • Public Services International, Sub-Regional Office, New Delhi
  • IndustriAll, South Asia Office, New Delhi
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