South Asia Asbestos Strategy Meeting 

by Omana George1



Participants from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Philippines, the US and Japan attended the two-day 2018 South Asia Asbestos Strategy Meeting which took place in Negombo, on the west coast of Sri Lanka, on July 10 and 11, 2018. The sponsors and organizers of this event included: the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN), the National Trade Union Federation of Sri Lanka (NTUF), the Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims, the Asia Monitor Resource Centre, Australia’s Union Aid Abroad and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. On the agenda were updates about current national situations highlighting successful strategies and ongoing challenges.


Of great interest to the international delegates – who were well aware of the pressure Russia exerted on Sri Lanka to reverse plans to ban asbestos in 20182 – were the presentations by Ruthiradeepan Velaiyudham, the NTUF Vice President, Methsiri De Silva, NTUF Consultant for the development of the National Asbestos Profile and Dr Wajira Plipane from the Ministry of Labor. The first two speakers, who provided a wealth of information on key areas of interest, agreed that despite the current situation, plans for the prohibition of asbestos had not been abandoned. Of particular importance were the following facts:

  • the government’s objective to phase out asbestos use has not officially been withdrawn;
  • the NTUF, along with other civil society actors, supports the ban and is calling for the implementation of prohibitions as soon as possible

A common problem identified by activists was the persecution of ban asbestos campaigners by employers or industry groups. A representative from Kolkata, India informed delegates about the victimization of union activists who had held an asbestos diagnosis camp at the Everest Industries Ltd. factory; following this presentation, delegates were unanimous in approving the Indian workers’ demands for:

  1. decent working conditions and the removal of health hazards for workers and their families;
  2. the manufacturing process to transition to asbestos-free technology;
  3. the cessation of victimisation of workers and the immediate reinstatement of Goutam Sardar and Arun Chakraborty;
  4. the rights of workers to organise and bargain collectively.

New asbestos training modules, produced by Australia’s Union Aid Abroad, in consultation with the ABAN and partnering organizations, were introduced and discussed. Delegates were asked to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their campaigns and pinpoint potential areas for improvement in light of the availability of new information resources and shared objectives.

During plenary session discussions the lack of medical capacity for diagnosing asbestos-related diseases throughout Asia was discussed. In his presentation, Dr Ashish Mittal from the Indian Ban Asbestos Network provided information on the health hazards of asbestos exposures and pinpointed particular challenges faced in India by at-risk or injured workers. ABAN Coordinator Sugio Furuya updated delegates on the latest estimates for global asbestos mortality with particular attention to the number of estimated asbestos deaths in south Asian countries. Discussions were far-ranging and detailed about how to maximize the effectiveness of available resources through collaborative actions. Country and sub-regional action plans were discussed.

July 12, 2018


1 Omana George is from the Asia Monitor Resource Centre, Hong Kong.

2 Media Release: Economic blackmail by Russia against Sri Lanka’s asbestos ban decision slammed by international trade unions and health networks. January 3, 2018.



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