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17 September 2010

ILO sounds the ‘death knell for asbestos’

A statement from a United Nations body confirming its desire to see the end of asbestos use worldwide is the "death knell" for a substance which claims one life every five minutes around the clock, the global union confederation ITUC has said.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) this week warned in an official position statement that industry lobbyists pushing asbestos around the world must not claim to have ILO support.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said the ILO statement provides welcome support for the global union campaign to see a ban on asbestos worldwide and a just transition to safer, better jobs for displaced asbestos workers. "ILO has confirmed that it wants to see the elimination of asbestos use worldwide, full stop," she said. "Coming on the heels of calls for a global ban on asbestos use from major scientific, medical and occupational health groups, this sounds the death knell for the deadly fibre and a fatal blow for the asbestos pushers." The ILO statement comes at a time the asbestos industry is pressing hard for an expansion of chrysotile (white) asbestos production and sales. All forms of asbestos except for chrysotile are already prohibited worldwide.

Industry lobby group the Chrysotile Institute, which takes a lead in the global promotion of asbestos exports, routinely cites ILO documents and claims they are supportive of its case for continued asbestos use.

The Chrysotile Institute’s "Safe use manual" claims it "builds on the principles of controlled-use embodied in ILO Convention 162, Safety in the Use of Asbestos." The Institute also claims on its website to have organised training courses "in cooperation" with the ILO "intended to promote the controlled use of chrysotile." And a March 2010 Chrysotile Institute news release headed ‘Partners in Favour of Chrysotile Fibre’ and criticising those calling for a global asbestos ban said its case was supported by "documents from the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization among others."

Concerned at the industry’s repeated misuse of ILO’s name, the Geneva-based body issued the position statement which highlights the UN agency’s commitment to "promoting the elimination of the future use of all forms of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials."

Sharan Burrow said the ILO position statement could have "life-saving consequences, in reinforcing the union case for a total asbestos ban."

Source: ITUC
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