Thursday, January 27, 2011

How the anti-asbestos lobby manipulates public opinion

Eco-terrorism as a social phenomenon and a method of a competitive struggle did not appear yesterday. Playing on fears has always been an excellent means of manipulating public opinion, and the environmental topics have paved the way for all possible speculations. Therefore today we can make out commercial “ears” behind public actions of many organizations for environmental protection more and more often.

In our country a growing threat posed by pseudo-environmentalists has been already evaluated on the highest level. The Chairman of the Russian Government was the first to speak publicly about the things everybody knew but tried hard not to notice. When talking to journalists during his recent car tour around Russia, the head of the government said openly that the government regularly came across the manipulation with environmental issues in the competitive struggle. “Sometimes an environmental problem is used for political purposes, and the Nord Stream is the example”, Mr. Putin noted.

According to the Prime Minister, things got to direct blackmail. “We faced with a situation when they came and said: “Nothing personal. Its business. Youll have to pay. Youd better do it right away.” They even specified amounts”, the Prime Minister said.

It is important that the concern of the Chairman of the Russian government on this matter is not limited by frameworks of such megaprojects as the Nord Stream. Already in April 2009 activities of the international lobby were discussed in detail at the meeting of the Russian Prime Minister with trade union leaders. “We cannot and must not allow anybody to take advantage of difficulties to press on us even harder. I’m not talking about politics now. I mean, to restrain us in the competition in world markets”, - Vladimir Putin indicated the position of the authorities.

Actions of the international anti-asbestos lobby are, perhaps, one of the brightest examples of the effective work of pseudo-environmentalists serving the business. The starting point of our investigation was the sensational article “Asbestos Turnabout” published in the Wall Street Journal that revealed cases of fraudulent asbestos lawsuits in the USA. Billions of dollars are made on the imaginary asbestos problem. Due to the existing legal precedents money is virtually made out of thin air. A slight contact with asbestos is sufficient to have an opportunity to sue several companies. And even if a man smokes and suddenly develops lung cancer, then asbestos is to blame, not smoking. And if he can prove that he has been exposed to asbestos fibers, he can count on a considerable compensation.

According to the report of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy published in May 2008 the losses from asbestos lawsuits in the U.S. exceeded 70 billion dollars. At the same time, according to the Wall Street Journal, the race for excess asbestos profits resulted in several lawsuits for one and the same case.

How is Russia related to this story? The thing is that Russia is the largest producer and consumer of chrysotile asbestos. Behind the name that says nothing to the ordinary man there stands a strategic product, a mineral that is widely used in different spheres of human activities. It is used for the production of building materials, e.g. slate and water pipes, brakes, etc. Chrysotile asbestos is safe in case of its controlled use, and this has been proved by many reports of respected scientific institutions. Yet, until 1970s people in Western countries used an absolutely different, health-damaging mineral called amphibole that has a common commercial name “asbestos” with Russian chrysotile. These minerals are different in their structure and even look different; yet, the powerful industry of the international anti-asbestos lobby is now operating based on this confusion.
In the current epoch of the “free market” chrysotile is an “inconvenient” competitor for its many substitutes. Its cheapness, availability and durability are unequivocally in favor of chrysotile. However various public organizations strive for “closing” national markets to this product. This is the ecological terrorism. Behind the pseudo-environmentalists there stands a whole supranational industry of money-pumping. This international association of lawyers, politicians, and businessmen are headed by law firms that have built their empire on asbestos cases. Since 1970s this lobby have filed and won thousands of lawsuits, thus paralyzing whole industries.

The leader of the international trade union movement “For Chrysotile” Andrey Kholzakov states that the law firms have a direct link to public organizations advocating the chrysotile ban. According to him, the head of one of such firms finances the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) that promotes the anti-asbestos lobby from the “public position”. His sister, in her turn, manages the Secretariat. Thus, the link between the lobby and the “public” organization is obvious, Mr. Kholzakov says. Aside from the Secretariat, the expert continues, huge financial flows are also sent to political and commercial organizations under the guise of grants and sponsorship to doctors or of donations.

We should admit that the anti-asbestos lobby has already achieved “impressive” results in Europe. Ignoring scientific evidence of safety of the controlled use of chrysotile, governments of some European countries have banned the use of all types of asbestos on their territory.

Some people also try to do the same in Russia. At present there exist some nongovernmental organizations, public actions of which allow us to suggest their connection with the international anti-asbestos lobby.

In public documents of such organizations nothings indicates their affiliation with the Secretariat or other international organizations; yet, Western governmental and commercial structures, which interests must logically be far from the Russian boundaries, act as sponsors of some actions.

Nowadays backroom games of lobby structures are opposed to by a number of public organizations. And the most categorical position in relation to the lobbyists is that of the Trade Union of Russian Builders that already in 2007 proclaimed the opposition to the international anti-asbestos lobby as one of its priority goals. And for that very purpose the Alliance of trade unions of chrysotile asbestos miners and millers has been founded.

At the same time the goals of pseudo-environmentalists are quite transparent. “They need to adopt a public resolution about the harm of chrysotile by all means”, Mr. Kholzakov, the Chairman of the trade union of the Joint-Stock Company “Uralasbest”, the Head of the international trade union movement “For Chrysotile”, says. According to him, their activities come down to a narrow practical task, that is, development of the necessary document reflecting a “change” in the public opinion with respect to the use of chrysotile asbestos in Russia.

In 2011 yet the 5th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention will be held and the issue of including chrysotile in the list of dangerous substances is again in its agenda.

For many years the main obstacle here has been the firm position adopted by Russia and some other countries in support of chrysotile. The desired document might become an instrument of pressure on the position of the Russian delegation at the Conference.

The struggle of trade unions has continued for some years at all fronts of the information war. Thus, the trade unions were the first to reveal the links between the anti-asbestos lobby and the allegedly independent International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. The Chrysotile Association reported that in 2008 at the World Congress on Safety and Heath at Work in Seoul, Korea, organized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) its delegates presented with facts proving that activities of the Secretariat were sponsored by the Law Firm Kazan, McClain, Abrams, Lyons, Greenwood & Harley, PLC. The coordinator of the Secretariat Laurie Kazan-Allen personally admitted the fact of sponsorship of IBAS by companies of the anti-asbestos lobby.

In their time the Russian trade unions acted as a unifying force joining efforts of organizations from chrysotile-producing countries in a single international public force – the International Trade Union Movement “For Chrysotile” comprising trade unions of the chrysotile industry from Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, Colombia, Kazakhstan, and other countries.

International trade unions have stood in the way of the anti-asbestos lobby. Before that large-scale information campaigns had often failed to allow national governments to protect their industry and workplaces of hundreds of thousands of people employed by the industry. Nowadays the active trade union and international movement lets researchers and experts present results of independent expert examinations to the public.

The trade union movement actively opposed the ban in international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and led the WHO to the decision about a differentiated approach to regulating different types of asbestos fibers. This was fiercely counteracted by the anti-asbestos lobby that insisted on the review of this decision through affiliated officials. Quite often some WHO officials related to the lobby directly sabotage resolutions of their own organization by ignoring the decision about the differentiated approach to different types of asbestos made by the World Health Assembly. It should be noted that thanks to the trade unions such cases received wide publicity, thus saving the delegations from chrysotile-producing countries from undue pressure.

According to Andrey Kholzakov, today it is most important not to allow the lobbying structures to manipulate the public opinion. The scientific judgment on chrysotile is as follows: its controlled use poses no health risk. Risks for health of workers and population are present only if the established safety rules are broken, as is the case in the use of any other building materials. This is the official position of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. And nobody is going to review this assessment. No grounds.

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta


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