Unions Call for Asbestos Ban 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



In 1989, the International Federation of Building and Woodworkers – now the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) – issued a global call for an end to asbestos use. Since then, the BWI has been at the forefront of global efforts to implement the transition from policies based on the “controlled use of asbestos” to those based on no use. On May 6 & 7, 2014, the latest manifestation of the union’s continued engagement with this issue took place in the Austrian capital when more than one hundred delegates from forty countries were brought together for the: International Asbestos Conference.

Austrian trade unions – the construction union Die Gewerkschaft Bau-Holz (GBH) and Die Produktionsgewerkschaft (PRO-GE) – facilitated the gathering which took place at union premises in Vienna. The event was organized by the BWI in collaboration with the Industriall Global Union, the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.1 It did not go unnoticed that this high-profile meeting took place on the anniversary of the 2013 Rotterdam Convention debacle which saw a Russian-led cabal obstruct the enactment of United Nations proposals to regulate the global trade in asbestos.2

The agenda of the two-day conference reflected the international dichotomy whereby asbestos use is banned throughout the developed world but remains legal in industrializing economies. A wide range of topics was covered by frontline activists and world-class experts with time built into the agenda to allow for discussions and strategy planning. The exchange of information was enabled by the provision of translation into English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese and Korean. Multilingual educational material made available to delegates included copies of the 2014 “Asbestos is a Killer” booklets published by the BWI and Industriall in English, Spanish, French and Russian3 as well as asbestos training material for at-risk workers produced by the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers.4

As had been observed in Geneva last year at sessions of the Rotterdam Convention Conference, members of the Russian asbestos lobby were anxious to derail the Vienna proceedings. To this end, they booked rooms in the same hotel as the conference delegates and scheduled a pro-asbestos meeting in that hotel. In addition, they attempted to gatecrash the trade union conference by demanding entry to the Catamaran Center; security guards who had been forewarned of the potential threat prevented any disturbances from occurring. On this occasion, the Russians’ attempts at intimidation failed.

A detailed report on the content of the presentations and discussions will be compiled in due course. In the meantime, the group photo which was taken on May 7 clearly shows the energy and enthusiasm which the participants at the International Asbestos Conference brought to the event. The struggle continues!


May 12, 2014


1 Building and Woodworkers International. International Conference on Asbestos.

2 Kazan-Allen L. Rotterdam Convention 2013 – An Activist’s Diary. May 21, 2013.

3 BWI and Industriall. Asbestos is a Killer. 2014.

4 Asbestos Campaign Documents and Posters. EFBWW.
http://www.efbww.org/default.asp?Issue=Asbestos Documents and Posters&Language=EN
Information modules for the safer handling of asbestos. EFBWW.



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