Laurie Kazan-Allen
Presented at: 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference Perth, Australia, November 12, 2019

The 2019 Conference of Australia’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency provided a timely opportunity not only to consider the current global asbestos landscape but also to review progress which has been made during the 21st century in the worldwide struggle for asbestos justice. That a seismic shift in the global discourse on asbestos has been accomplished is testament to the prodigious efforts made by civil society groups which have coalesced to give voice to asbestos victims, expose industry propaganda, and shame complicit governments into action. The once revered “magic mineral,” is now thought to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.

On September 26, 2019, a resolution by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council was adopted by the UN General Assembly entitled: Protection of the rights of workers exposed to hazardous substances and wastes which reaffirmed the sanctity and indivisibility of human rights and condemned:

the violations and abuses of the rights of workers in all parts of the world through unsafe exposure to toxic and hazardous substances, as reported each year and addressed in reports and discussions at the national, regional and global levels…2

Resolution 42/21 noted with concern that: “millions of workers globally die each year from unsafe or unhealthy conditions of work despite clear human rights obligations relating to the protection of their health…” and urged “the strengthening of the global regime for chemicals management to prevent and minimize unsafe exposure to hazardous substances…”3

This much welcomed resolution was a manifestation of continuing UN commitment to act on the deadly hazard posed by workplace exposures to substances like asbestos. In fact, asbestos policies adopted by UN agencies, including the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, and the Human Refugee Agency are unambiguous: exposure to all types of asbestos can kill and4 the best way to end the epidemic of asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of asbestos.

UN efforts to eradicate asbestos exposures have reinforced grassroots work by victims’ groups, trade unions and campaigners to protect populations and ensure that calls for asbestos to be banned were heeded by government leaders, politicians and decision-makers. Throughout the 21st century substantial headway has been made in improving the rights of asbestos victims and reducing the asbestos hazard. The figures below tell the story.

Global Asbestos Landscape: 2019 compared with 2000

2000

2019

National asbestos bans

18

67

Countries using >500t of asbestos per year

66

23

Producer countries

14

35

Global production

2,040,000t

1,170,000t*

*USGS estimate for 2018.

Unfortunately, progress in minimizing asbestos use is not uniform, with consumption growing during the century in several Asian countries; of the 23 countries still using more than 500 tonnes annually in 2016, 17 (71%) were in Asia.

Asian Asbestos Consumption – Usages in 2000 and 2016 Compared6

Country

2000

2016

tonnes

tonnes

2016 v 2000 %

Change %

China

387,000

288,000

74

-26

India

143,000

308,000

215

115

Thailand

94,800

32,700

34

-66

Kazakhstan

105,000

25,200

24

-76

Uzbekistan

35,200

70,600

201

101

Indonesia

36,800

114,000

310

210

Vietnam

23,900

58,100

243

143

Sri Lanka

13,200

47,400

359

259

Top 8 Total

839,000

944,000

113

13

Other (Asia)

241,000

33,000

14

-86

All Asia Total

1,080,000

977,000

90

-10

Source: USGS.
Notes: Consumption figures for asbestos producers (here, China and Kazakhstan but also Russia) are unlikely to be reliable, because they rely on producers providing accurate production figures – in

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