Korean Asbestos Relief Law 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Celebrations which took place on March 12, 2010 at the national parliament in Seoul marked the passage of Korea's Asbestos Relief Law a fortnight earlier. Amongst the people who gathered for this event were asbestos victims from all over Korea as well as representatives of trade unions and environmental activists.


The adoption of legislation to provide compensation for sufferers of mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer who were environmentally exposed to asbestos is a major achievement. This law is the first ever passed in Korea which recognizes and compensates victims of environmental disease. Congress delayed passage of the law three times and four different versions of the law were drafted by the ruling political party and the opposition.

Even though there are flaws in the new measures such as very low levels of compensation, which are about 10-20% of those awarded by the occupational insurance system for the same asbestos-related diseases, the official recognition of these injuries and the mandatory provisions to compensate victims from January 1, 2011 signal a major U-turn by the authorities.

This change in policy came about as a result of intensive lobbying since January 2009 by asbestos victims who formed the campaigning group Ban Asbestos Korea (BANKO). The impetus for their campaign was the discovery of many victims of asbestos disease who lived in close proximity to redundant asbestos mines. In less than a year, campaigners secured 90,000 signatures to their petition for a law recognizing the deadly effects of hazardous environmental exposures to asbestos. Two major trade unions took an active lead in the campaign.

While toasting their success with the traditional Korean alcoholic drink 'Mak-Guli,' BANKO campaigners reiterated their determination to press for improvements to the ground-breaking legislation.



April 2, 2010



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