Asbestos is not banned in most African countries and continues to be used or even extracted in mines. The Building and Wood Workers' International is campaigning for an asbestos ban.
“The laws are not being enforced”, opines Crecentia Mofokeng to the question of how it is possible that asbestos is still being used for instance in South Africa or Mozambique despite a ban. “But most African countries have not even banned asbestos – and Zimbabwe continues to extract it. That must stop.” The officer of the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) responsible for Africa and the Middle East is therefore advocating for a worldwide asbestos ban.
A substance for the poor
She knows why asbestos is still being used. “Because it’s cheap. There is a gulf here between poor and rich. It’s the poor that get sick.” For example workers, but also their families and communities, who are exposed to the dust, those who bring it home, or who live in houses contaminated with asbestos. Asbestos continues to be used in cars, tyres, conduits and cement. Most workers have no idea how dangerous the fibre is. The BWI campaign
therefore relies on awareness raising and information about how to protect yourself. “We have already reached 10,000 workers with our flyers on banning and protection from asbestos. On 28 April 2021, Memorial Day, we commemorated all dead workers with a memorial tree. Asbestos is a killer.” 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at their workplace; concrete figures for Africa are lacking. “Deaths are not reported and workers not told about them”, says Mofokeng.
Pressure is needed
However, it is not only workers who are not well informed about the dangerous nature of asbestos, but also employers and governments. BWI is therefore also active in tripartite negotiations with representatives of governments, employers and trade unions. “A strong trade union movement is needed for governments to move”, knows Mofokeng from experience. “Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and China continue to produce asbestos and export it to developing and newly industrialised countries that cannot afford any expensive material. They spend a lot of money on advertising their products and spread lies about their harmlessness. And our China-friendly governments permit the laws to be broken”, she says angrily. “When it would be relatively simple to use other
materials.” Mofokeng is demanding national bans that are also enforced, and that asbestos finally be included in the Rotterdam Convention, so that workers must give informed consent when asbestos is used – which would amount in actuality to a worldwide ban. The question remains how the removal of asbestos can be carried out safely: “How can we prevent the air being polluted and people put at risk again in the process?” A problem that has not yet been solved in Switzerland either.
“Most African countries have not even banned asbestos – and Zimbabwe continues to extract it. That must stop.”