Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca
The World Health Organization (WHO) is reviewing its policy on entities with which the WHO will not engage. At a January 2015 Executive Board meeting on Boundaries: entities with which WHO will not engage, the WHO confirmed its policy not to engage with the tobacco and arms industries.
From March 30 to April 1, 2015, member states will discuss the proposed Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors at a WHO intergovernmental meeting. They will decide what proposals should be submitted to the World Health Assembly, which will take a final decision at its May 2015 meeting.
In a letter sent on March 9, 2015, Dr. Philip Landrigan and his co-signers request that the asbestos industry be put on the list of entities with which the WHO will not engage, along with the tobacco and the arms industries. They point out that all the reasons for refusing to engage with the tobacco industry apply to the asbestos industry:
- It is a deadly industry that causes unnecessary deaths.
- The asbestos industry works to defeat the efforts of the WHO to stop the use of asbestos and instead seeks to increase use of asbestos in order to increase its profits.
- Just as is true for the tobacco industry, overwhelming evidence shows that asbestos companies have repeatedly and systematically interfered with legitimate scientific research, and repeatedly used industry-funded scientists and their industry-facilitated findings to deceive consumers and undermine public health.
- Just as is true for the tobacco industry, the asbestos industry uses lobbyists and disreputable tactics to undermine and subvert national and international efforts to stop the use of asbestos.
- The asbestos industry repeatedly puts out false information claiming that the WHO supports the use of chrysotile asbestos.
- The asbestos industry threatens scientists who speak up about harm caused by chrysotile asbestos.
In their letter, the writers note that the corrupting and corrosive impact of the asbestos industry on national and international public health policy will cause more people, particularly in Asia, to die from asbestos-related diseases. They state:
“The evidence is clear that it is inappropriate, counter-productive and harmful for the WHO to engage with the asbestos industry or individuals or organisations representing the interests of the asbestos industry.”
Recommendations to date
In the WHO discussions to date, various countries have recommended adding alcohol, food and beverage industries to the tobacco and arms industries as entities with which the WHO will not engage.
Another suggestion put forward is that when engaging with industries affecting human health or affected by WHO’s norms and standards, such as food and beverages, alcohol, infant formula, WHO will exercise particular caution and WHO’s engagement will be strictly limited to assisting such industries to comply with WHO’s norms and standards or guidelines or policy.
The asbestos industry is a deadly industry that has been found guilty of criminal practices. Ministers of Health, particularly in the many countries where the asbestos industry has inflicted such enormous harm and suffering, should recommend that the asbestos industry be placed on the list of entities with which the WHO will not engage.