Ramping Up The Fight On Asbestos

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA’s Executive Officer Kate Lee knows all too well why asbestos continues to be discovered on Australian building sites so many years after bans on the material were put in place. This month she updates us on how APHEDA is tackling this insidious presence in our world.

The potentially fatal consequences of asbestos use are so well known that the once obscure product has become a household concern. So why – years after being been banned in Australia – does it keep appearing in things like brake pads, construction materials and even children’s crayons?

On one level, it is a simple question of imported goods and holes in Australia’s border security that allow products to enter when they should be turned away.

On another level, in order to completely stop the tide of asbestos contaminated products arriving on our shores, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is trying to help stamp out the production and trade in asbestos in countries in our region with its campaign Asbestos. Not Here. Not Anywhere.

There is still a persistent global trade in asbestos, with Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Brazil among the world’s largest exporters of mined raw asbestos.

“Australia doesn’t have the resources to test every product that comes through our borders so we all need to fight for a global ban,’’ Ms Lee said.

“There is a UN meeting every two years to review the Rotterdam Convention on hazardous substances and chemicals. However, all countries need to reach a consensus for something to be added to the banned list – an impossible task when Russia and China want to continue to trade asbestos and so vote against a global ban.”

“So Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is working in our region for country asbestos bans. Our campaign focuses on working with unions and OHS community groups in Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to achieve their goal of having bans implemented in those countries. And what we are saying is: Asbestos kills, we don’t want it here in Australia or in any country in Asia, and it is still a problem for us at home wherever it is traded in the world.”

One of the greatest challenges of the campaign is pushing back against the vested corporate interests that keep the trade going. There is a very active pro-asbestos lobby that continues to spread the idea there is such a thing as ‘safe asbestos’.

There is a great opportunity right now for many people to come together and make a big difference to ending the asbestos trade. And there is a growing momentum to do something, with Labor, the Greens and cross-bench MPs recently working together to push for an inquiry into imported asbestos products. There are also new opportunities to work co-operatively between unions, community organisations, and even governments, to try and tackle this in our region, together.

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is working with Australian unions to send representatives to the South East Asia Ban Asbestos Conference in Jakarta in the first week of November to work with others across our region for a coordinated regional strategy to take advantage of a new momentum to ban asbestos around the world.

To join the campaign please visit: https://www.apheda.org.au/our-work/asbestos/
You can download your solidarity form and sign it, join the social media push using #NotHereNotAnywhere and also download posters for your workplace.

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