24 April 2017
The Rotterdam Convention Official contact point (OCP)
The Acting Director General
Mr Kgabo Mahoai
Department of International Relations and Cooperation
1. The Rotterdam Convention was specifically created to address the double standard whereby hazardous chemicals and pesticides that are banned or severely restricted in industrialized countries are increasingly being shipped to developing countries and countries with economies in transition, thus populations in the global South are immorally and unjustly exposed to harmful chemicals and pesticides. The Rotterdam Convention seeks to stop this double standard by empowering countries with the right to Prior Informed Consent.
2. For more than a decade the asbestos industry has blocked the wishes of the rest of the world and refused to allow chrysotile asbestos to be put on the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances.
3. Chrysotile asbestos meets all the Convention’s criteria for listing. Thirty-two scientists from every region of the world, who make up the Convention’s expert scientific committee, have repeatedly recommended that chrysotile asbestos be put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances.
4. Listing chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance affords people in developing countries the right to Prior Informed Consent under the Convention. This right ensures that people must be warned of the hazards of asbestos and provides access to social justice.
5. The asbestos industry is deliberately misleading the public. Because the parties of the Rotterdam Convention have not succeeded in a listing chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance, industry representatives are publicly misrepresenting the facts by stating that chrysotile is not dangerous for human health.
6. Hope to break the deadlock on listing chrysotile asbestos has come from a meeting of African countries in 2016, 12 of 14 countries at the meeting, Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia have proposed an amendment to the Convention to allow decisions to list hazardous substances to be taken by a 75% majority vote if consensus proves impossible. Zimbabwe opposed the motion and South Africa abstained.
7. The amendment can be approved by a 75% vote at COP8. If the amendment is not approved, the entire Convention is a risk, as it will be proven that a tiny but powerful interest group can render the rights it contains null and void. The asbestos industry will be able to continue preventing access to rights in the Convention, sending a clear message that the right of Prior Informed Consent is not a right at all, but is only available if the hazardous industry in question permits it.
8. South Africa lack of support for the proposal is confounding given that South Africa has legislation in place to prohibit the use, processing or manufacturing, of any asbestos or asbestos-containing product, effectively banning asbestos in 2008. This was achieved after more than two decades; from campaign efforts by trade unions and public health interest groups in 1980s and through an exemplary and inclusive multi stakeholder process from 1994 in a democratic South Africa. The current legislation is consistent with Section 24 of the South African Bill of Rights which emphasises the right to an environment that is not harmful to health or wellbeing, and which protects the environment for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution. It shows the South African’s governments concern for public health interest triumphed over substantial capital interest. In doing so, South Africa also made a huge contribution worldwide to public health caused by asbestos with its ban. South Africa once produced 100% amosite and 97% crocidolite asbestos, and was the 5th largest producer of chrysolite asbestos.
We the undersigned organisations, are of the opinion that the proposed amendment from the twelve African countries represents the only possibility of ending the ability of the asbestos industry, or other hazardous industries, to block the rights in the Convention from becoming reality.
All Parties to the Convention have a legal and moral obligation to allow the right to Prior Informed Consent contained in the Convention. We cannot accept a neutral position on this amendment by South Africa, which will be interpreted as withholding the right of Prior Informed Consent to be extended to all citizens of the Global South.
We therefore strongly urge the South African government to uphold your national position on asbestos at the global level by promoting and supporting the proposed amendment to the Rotterdam Convention to list hazardous substances to be taken by a 75% majority vote as a last resort.
Signed on behalf of their organisations:
Signed in their individual capacity:
1. Mr Z Laher Acting Director at United Nations (UN), Laherz@dirco.gov.za
2. Rotterdam Convention Designated national authority for industrial chemicals and pesticides (DNA CP), Ms. Judie Combrink, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Rotterdam Convention Designated national authority for industrial chemicals (DNA C), Stockholm Convention National focal point (NFP), Ms. Noluzuko Gwayi, Senior Policy Advisor / Director, email@example.com