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India opposes international convention to list asbestos as hazardous substance, invites campaigners' ire

Sharad Sawant in Geneva addressing campaigners
By Our Representative
Reports from Geneva say that India has opposed listing the chrysotile asbestos at a meeting called under the UN auspices to exclude hazardous substances in international trade. The International Ban Asbestos Association (IBAA), a top campaign body, has said that India is the company of such countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Belarus, Sudan and Cuba, all of whom do not want "exclusion" of the hazardous material in world trade.
In a strongly worded criticism of the Indian stance, the French campaign body Association Nationale de Défense des Victimes de l'Amiante (ANDEVA) said, “India is the biggest importer of asbestos."
It underlined, "It is frightening to see that a country which suffered an industrial catastrophe as the tragedy of the Bhopal factory (1984) could choose to protect the commercial interests of a few merchants before the information of its population. By the way the company Union Carbide was one of the giant asbestos companies.”
The Geneva meet was in continuation of the Conference of Parties (called COP7) to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. It is an international grouping of countries that want to control the trade and use of hazardous chemicals and pesticides.
“The reasons given for the veto on listing by the pro-asbestos delegations included the following: there was no adverse health impact of asbestos exposure, asbestos was essential for use by poor people, there was no new scientific evidence supporting inclusion, chrysotile products were less hazardous than the alternatives and it was possible to use chrysotile safely”, said Laurie Kazan-Allen of the IBAA.
Kazan-Allen said, “Although India had at a previous meeting supported the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention, they have re-joined the asbestos refusniks this time round”, adding, “They must have found it quite uncomfortable to do so in the presence of Sharad Vittal Sawant, one of their compatriots whose life has been shattered by asbestosis.”
Speaking at the plenary session, Sawant said, belonging to Mumbai, he worked for 40 years at the factory Hindustan Ferodo (now Hindustan Composites), which uses chrysotile asbestos. “I am suffering from asbestosis and my wife as well. Another 400 of my colleagues have been diagnosed as well. I came here to request you to put chrysotile asbestos in the PIC List of the Rotterdam Convention”, he underlined.
“Sawant’s intervention was greeted with applause from delegates and jeers from at least one industry lobbyist”, Kazan-Allen said on May 13.
Earlier, on May 12, Sawant took part in a “colourful and lively ban asbestos demonstration” in the iconic square outside the conference in La Place de Les Nations. His comments in Marathi and Hindi were translated into English by Pralhad Malvankar, coordinator of the Occupational Health and Safety Centre in Mumbai.
“Against a backdrop of dozens of national flags, he addressed trade unionists, campaigners and other asbestos victims from Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia at the protest organized by the global labor federation IndustriALL, its affiliates from Australian and UK unions and the Building and Wood Workers International”, Kazan-Allen said.
Speaking on the occasion, IndustriALL’s Director of Health, Safety and Sustainability Brian Kohler warned the demonstrators: “Do not be deceived by the lies of the asbestos industry – all forms of asbestos kill. Chrysotile is not somehow magically different from other forms of asbestos, and saying so will not make it so.”
Kazan-Allen commented, “Before COP-7 even began, it was clear that the industry lobby intended to manipulate procedural technicalities to achieve their goals despite the fact that under the terms and rules of the convention, chrysotile should be listed on Annex III.”

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