ITUC Backs Sri Lankan Affiliate over Asbestos Dispute with Russia

The ITUC has pledged its full backing to Sri Lankan trade union centre NTUF over an asbestos trade dispute with Russia. The NTUF has called on the Sri Lankan government to stick to a decision to ban imports of asbestos, after Russia blocked tea imports from Sri Lanka in an apparent retaliation for Sri Lanka refusing to accept imports of chrysotile asbestos from Russia.

“Chrysotile is a deadly substance, and Sri Lankans will pay with their lives for years to come if the government does not reinstate the ban. Every country should have the right to protect the lives and well-being of its citizens, and the Russian government’s retaliation by banning agricultural imports, vital to Sri Lanka’s economy, is unacceptable,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

The Russian ban, imposed on 18 December, was followed just two days later by a Sri Lankan government announcement that it would defer banning asbestos imports from Russia. Sri Lanka had previously announced a phasing out of asbestos starting 1 January 2018 with a full ban planned by 2024.

“Being a big country, Russia has resorted to arm twisting its weaker trade partner. It is unfortunate that the Sri Lankan Government has to give in to these pressure tactics and accept hazardous material from Russia. The NTUF appeals to the Government of Sri Lanka not to give into the safe use theory of chrysotile asbestos being propagated by asbestos exporting governments led by Russia…the government should stick to its decision for a total ban by 2024,” said NTUF Secretary General Padmasiri Ranawakaarachchi.

Chrysotile is the main cause of asbestos-related disease in the world, including a wide range of cancers, and both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have clear positions on the deadly nature of chrysotile asbestos. The WHO has issued numerous statements affirming that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all forms of asbestos.