Asbestos is an example of immoral economic growth

The financial newspapers often refere to a BRIC group of countries or, rather, economies.  This stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China and is used to describe the forecasted economic powerhouses for this century.  But there is also the risk of economic growth without morality.  India is a case in point and asbestos can be an example.

Pages from india_asb_time_bombThe health hazards of asbestos have been established for decades but only officially acknowledged more recently.  One would expect that when some countries ban the import, export and manufacture of a product that other countries may suspect that something may be amiss.

In the introduction to the September 2008 book “India’s Asbestos Time Bomb” Laurie Kazan-Allen writes

“Historically the burden of industrial pollution has reached the developing world much faster than the fruits of industrial growth” writes Dr. Sanjay Chaturvedi.  This statement is well illustrated by the evolution of the asbestos industry in India.  In the frantic rush for economic development, there has been a pervasive lack of concern for the health of workers and the contamination of the environment.  Sacrificing the lives of the few for the “good” of the many, the Indian Government has knowingly colluded in this sad state of affairs.”

Kazan-Allen is a longtime campaigner on asbestos.  In 2001 she put this question to the Canadian Medical  Association Journal.

“Chrysotile has caused and is continuing to cause disease and death worldwide. It is hypocritical for Canada to continue to produce chrysotile when it is not prepared to use it domestically. If chrysotile is unsuitable for Canadian lungs, how does it become suitable for Korean, Indian and Japanese lungs?”

A foundation of public health and workplace safety management is that bad practices, immoral practices, are corrected, not accommodated.  At some point the exploitation of others for the financial betterment of a few must end. Could that lead to a “compassionate capitalism” or is that just another term for “socialism”?  These semantics are being argued at the moment in the United States over health care but the question needs to be asked globally, just as it is on climate change and on the financial markets.

The global implications of poor OHS management and practices needs to be placed on the policy agenda not only of the ILO, United Nations and trade union movement, but the business groups, and professional associations who need to develop their social charters.  If those voices are not added to the debate, safety will also be a fringe issue and it is too important for that.

Kevin Jones

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