Castleman Environmental Health (2016) 15:8

DOI 10.1186/s12940-016-0091-6


The export of hazardous industries in 2015
Barry Castleman

In the 1970s, there were many reports of toxic hazards at corporate subsidiaries in the developing world that were
no longer tolerated in the corporations’ “home” countries. Following the chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, in 1984,
leading corporations then announced that they applied uniform standards of worker and environmental protection
worldwide. With globalization, corporations should also be obliged to take responsibility for their separate supplier,
contractor and distributor companies, and licensees of their technology.
The asbestos industry today consists of national corporations. Individual countries must overcome the influence of
the asbestos-exporting countries and asbestos companies and stop building with asbestos, as recommended by
WHO, ILO, and World Bank. WHO precautions for limiting governmental interaction with the tobacco industry
should be applied in dealing with the asbestos industry.
Keywords: Corporate double standards, Corporate social responsibility, Globalization, Suppliers, Distributors

Background world and about the responsibility of global corporations
The environmental movement in some industrialized for transferring protective safeguards along with the
nations in the 1970s brought unprecedented pressures industrial processes, products, and wastes. Today, global
on the most hazardous and polluting industries. Media corporations still dominate manufacturing and trade, but
coverage and public awareness led to the enactment of they often manage this through arrangements with
laws and the implementation of governmental regula- separate companies rather than through their corporate
tions on chemical and asbestos industries, among subsidiaries. This complicates the challenge of getting
others. Companies opposing regulation protested that global corporations to improve rather than exploit
they would face ruinous competition from unregulated hazardous conditions in the developing world.
foreign competitors.
But not all the “foreign competition” was foreigners
or competitors. All that Amatex, a US asbestos textile Before regulation of hazardous US industries caused
company, needed to do to avoid regulation of its manu- international flight
facturing process, was to move its production just Hueper wrote in a 1949 US government monograph that
across the Mexican border [1]. Japan’s Kawasaki Steel asbestos and a number of chemicals were carcinogenic.
built a sintering plant in Mindanao, in the Philippines, He warned that with the growth of industry in the devel-
in the mid-1970s. This steelmaking process produced oping world, “The bad record, carcinogenically speaking,
vast amounts of air pollution including trace metal which resulted from the hurried development of large-
impurities from the iron ore, coke and iron ore dust, scale chemical industries during and following World
and oxides of sulfur and nitrogen. A Manila newspaper War I may be repeated.” He also wrote that, “Criminal
reported that it was a “dirty” industry that could not be codes should take cognizance of the fact that the willful
built in Japan because of pollution concerns, but “the and undue exposure of an individual to a carcinogenic
Philippine authorities have no objection to its installa- occupational agent for personal gain by another party is
tion in the under-polluted southern island.” [1]. for all practical purposes equivalent to an attack with a
In the 1970s, there developed a growing concern about deadly weapon with a delayed action mechanism.” [2].
the export of hazardous industries to the developing Despite the accumulating scientific literature demon-
strating the carcinogenicity and other chronic effects of
Correspondence: major industrial chemicals, there was minimal regulation
PO Box 188, Garrett Park, MD 20896, USA of industry anywhere in the world before the 1970s.
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trichlorophenol and chromate manufacture.Castleman Environmental Health (2016) 15:8 Page 2 of 6 Trade unions and workers were generally unaware of unfair one. was the UN’s attempt to focus on the wise they would be “a severe burden on industry and an global corporations and try (in vain) to develop a code of . chlorinated biphenyl waste disposal [5]. An International porations were unwilling to compete in safety at the Labor Office study concluded that. in industrial hazards that emerged as industries faced When industry protested the requirements of a workers’ regulation and liability in the most industrialized na- compensation law in New York in 1935. “[E]xamples of ‘double standards’ in workplace limits “in a police sense” would be a “tool in worker and environmental protection have been docu- the hands of labor unions. Government authorities enforced Even when workers developed occupational diseases. could be generally said that the home country operations The industrial medicine and hygiene establishment were better than those of the subsidiaries in developing opposed mandatory industrial hygiene codes. Before 1970. Europe in the 1970s. corporate double standards were reported in many guidelines and were not enforced at all by state health countries. there wasn’t trial expansion was occurring.” None of the company doctors on the panel delayed health effects and the body of knowledge about or in the audience took exception to this view [4]. Most tional cancer and pneumoconioses. and poly- inspectors to issue fines for violations. The United Nations Centre on Transnational Corpora- industry lawyer Theodore Waters said administration of tions noted in 1985. 1954 meeting of the Industrial Hygiene Foundation. such as manufacture of asbestos (DuPont. in comparing the health expense of profitability. state governments were un. In just the global expansion of business-as-usual. Bethlehem Steel. mercury-cell able of doing air sampling and analyses for hundreds chlorine manufacture. other. the companies threatened to move to other public about the disease threat from certain industrial states. Enforcement would have required numerous asbestos product manufacturing industries. and labor officials. Just as the cor. When challenged. “it industries and jobs. they were based. financing the state agencies to have laboratories cap. occupational exposure limits capable of withstanding scrutiny of the corporate subsid- for toxic agents in the workplace air proposed by a iaries in Asia. them. tions. volunteer committee of a professional association. The large-scale export of hazardous industries to the proved industrial ventilation or to even tell workers that developing world coincided with the global expansion of materials they were exposed to could cause specific industry and the modern era of regulation in the US and forms of cancer. steelmaking. mented covering a broad range of transnationals. of these poisons than was allowed in the countries where States in the US avoided creating “barriers to indus. company doctors was the selective export of ultra-hazardous. new laws to regulate airborne exposure to toxic sub- particularly long-delayed conditions such as occupa. which began in 1974 should be merely “advisory and not mandatory”. not other countries [3]. Johns-Manville) [3]. It was corporate policy in relatively few cases.” Harvard professor and cor. At the countries” [6]. They made claims about having no try. securing weaken. but these claims were frequently in- Threshold Limit Values. driven by growing awareness of workers and the ing provisions. arsenical pesticide manufacture. But Largely revealed in scattered newspaper and magazine these limits were recommended as good practice articles. in many industrial processes: dye manufacture. and no compensation. Large corporations employed physicians and industrial hygienists who were aware of the literature. The Centre. they rarely became of the new industry set up in the developing world was aware of their work as the cause of their disability. no as a by-product of smelting certain copper ores [1]. stances at work and pollution in the environment. the much else going on. even to inform. but some earlier decades and into the 1970s. but these health professionals worked for corporate Corporate “double standards” management. regulation. and safety performance of home country and foreign willing to compete in safety at the expense of losing subsidiary operations of multinational corporations. indus- porate consultant Philip Drinker agreed that any codes tries and countries” [7]. They usually had no authority to order im. Workers’ compensation air contaminants and water pollutants. and closed in 1992. and the recovery of arsenic Under these conditions of virtually no information. well-established mortal The larger problem was corporate “double standards” hazards continued to be widespread and uncontrolled. polyvinyl chloride of substances – and empowering and directing state manufacture. let alone protect US multinational corporations could come up with no justi- workers from health hazards whose control would involve fication for exposing people in some countries to more significant costs. Major “runaway industry” shifts occurred X-rays failed to tell the workers.” Some states published in their legal codes the double standards. textiles and benzidine dyes. These restrictions laws alone did little to get industry to make expenditures were absent in the developing world where rapid indus- to prevent occupational diseases. discredited examining workers and seeing asbestosis on their chest technologies. Latin America. and Africa [5].

many thousands more would succumb later. Questions of responsibility become easier to asbestos is banned in over 50 countries. distributors. there ous conditions. ment cut-backs in staffing. The Code is an attempt to hold The Bhopal Gas tragedy the corporations to the highest standard of toxic sub- Then came the chemical disaster in Bhopal. Many thousands more die from environ- same way that many of them do for their more easily mental.g. While buildings are closed for the are questions a country could justifiably ask a foreign in- repairs. hazardous conditions. mesothelioma.. with any hazardous technology involved. global The double standards at Bhopal included numerous vital corporations were obliged to create and agree to the aspects of design and operation. contractors. worker The Accord will conduct major chemical corporations to issue global corporate independent inspections of 1800 factories. environment. in stances control they practice anywhere. Walmart and Gap Inc. Over 85% of world asbestos consumption is in Asia. compounded by manage- Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. and well over 100. Over 90% of the asbestos is used in asbestos- neur. In a matter of hours. world’s people live in countries where asbestos is still tors. including the family members in workers’ households . It occurred only months after the disclosed striking contrasts between Union Carbide’s fire at Tazreen Fashion. The World Health Organization has called for a global It is tragic that the global chemical and microelectron. The Accord requires brands to pay factories could thereafter reasonably be expected to demonstrate enough to assure safety. Global that are not subsidiaries of the global corporations. contractors. Only then can the prospective host government cement sheets and pipes. refrigeration for MIC storage) in the money-losing pesticide The findings are published. licensees) – in the exposure [13]. contractors. several thousand it applies to all the corporations’ subsidiaries. distribu. Relentless media attention jured hundreds more. which caused 112 deaths. of it. people died. The Accord began regular inspections of buildings for and maintenance of functional process safeguards (e. including photographs of plant [8. Guidelines for environmental review of indus- as is the International Labor Organization [12].000 due to lung for the behavior of these agents of their profitability cancer. declined to sign the legally- binding Accord. opting instead to pursue “voluntary” Corporate social responsibility elusive in the era of programs. trial projects evaluated by developing countries) [10]. the workers are paid. Gov. 150 global brands and retailers have signed the “we have no double standards. globalization has reduced the visibility of Asbestos corporate double standards on health. suppliers. electrical. 9]. and the As the result of social movements around the world.000 would be permanently disabled. on the Accord’s website The worldwide public reaction to the Bhopal disaster led www. and licensees of technology – all separate companies used. often with few if any protective measures. globalization In recent years. As the Bhopal plant and another Carbide plant making the same names of the well-known brands that these Bangladesh pesticide in West Virginia. with globalization in mind. as some eign corporations whose business created the basis for an countries banned asbestos and others increased their use application for plant construction filed by a local entrepre. and licensees [11]. a chemical so dangerous that large The devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza building in German and Japanese chemical corporations wouldn’t Bangladesh in 2013 killed 1138 garment workers and in- even store it in large tanks. More than policy statements in the late 1980s that said in various ways. International and vestor before allowing the construction of a new industrial Bangladesh unions are actively involved in the Accord. distributors. identifiable subsidiaries. Specifically. safety. and asbestosis from occupational (suppliers. everywhere. consumption since the turn of the new century has ernments in the developing world need to identify the for. and December of 1984.g. non-occupational cancer caused by asbestos.bangladeshaccord. worker training. ban of all forms of asbestos and estimated the annual ics corporations neither disclose nor take responsibility death toll worldwide at more than 107. most for asbestos-cement roof- properly investigate the global corporation’s experience ing. remained at about 2 million tons annually. fire. The cause was a massive release of 41 metric tons of vola- Sweatshop safety accord tile methyl isocyanate. plant (e. clothing makers were supplying became public. Yet most of the shirk in a shifting maze of suppliers. including paying the cost of that the new projects they propose would be up to the repairs immediately after an inspection reveals hazard- highest standards they practice anywhere. India. and structural integrity in February 2014.” These large companies Accord.Castleman Environmental Health (2016) 15:8 Page 3 of 6 practice that global corporations might reasonably be A “Code of Sustainable Practice in Occupational and expected to follow.. Environmental Health and Safety for Corporations” was drafted at a conference on “Dangerous Trade”.

– removing the word “asbestos” in advertising asbestos ganda and strategies everywhere to minimize their costs products bearing no warnings for disease prevention and compensation.Castleman Environmental Health (2016) 15:8 Page 4 of 6 exposed to dust brought home on the workers’ clothes. going back to have announced that they have global policies of 1) the 1920s. 18. In the US. doctors raising concerns about asbestos in India. governmental authorities porations have been reluctant to disclose the texts of – prolonged violation after regulations required health their policies. 19]: ities and 2) observing procedural safeguards when asbestos materials have to be disturbed or demolished – the suppression of medical and experimental in existing facilities. not using asbestos materials in constructing new facil. In recent – selling asbestos for use in children’s modeling years. The asbestos companies – labeling asbestos-containing products “asbestos-free” worldwide are well connected and use the same propa. compounds Thailand. like the World Bank [15]. many asbestos companies in the – marketing of products without warning labels in developing world were subsidiaries and customers of some countries after starting to affix warnings on global asbestos corporations. – non-disclosure to employees of asbestosis revealed terests in Vietnam may play an important role in the in their medical examinations opposition to banning asbestos there. lawyer representing the workers file no more such mining countries (mainly Russia and Kazakhstan). But in the new century. – firing workers and busting unions for protesting The asbestos companies of today are run by business. warning labels on asbestos products Back in the 1970s. increasing demand and low. the type to proceed in 2016. Stephan – wanton disposal of wastes around asbestos factories Schmidheiny. The – targeting of doctors raising public awareness about industry today consists mainly of national companies asbestos hazards in each country. ence” in the literature [16]. This industry spends millions hiring develop asbestos diseases from their exposures scientists to write and publish “downright dishonest sci. work A multibillionaire asbestos owner-executive. decades of litigation over asbestos International Agency for Research on Cancer [14]. Dow. officials with ICI. involved the asbestos industry worldwide. – firing and replacing workers before they had time to porations got out. Such disclosure – suppression of reference to asbestos hazards in the would help expand the market for alternatives to trade press asbestos-cement roofing. the same products in other countries there are no corporate asbestos giants remaining. How. – prolonged failure to take basic sanitary precautions ing an environmental disaster causing thousands of to keep workers from taking asbestos dust home to deaths from mesothelioma by an Italian trial court and their families on their clothes court of appeal. was sentenced to 18 years in jail for creat. A murder case against Schmidheiny is poised defense” articles to exonerate chrysotile asbestos. cases The involvement of Russian and Kazakh asbestos in. asbestos interests have spent many (crimes prosecuted after the statute of limitations had millions of dollars contracting and publishing “product run) [17]. No other industry has a comparable record of docu- Yet others die from other cancers caused by asbestos – mented bad practices in occupational and environmental including laryngeal and ovarian cancer. and ICI. – withholding of information on asbestos disease from ever. Public disclosure of the texts of findings these corporate policies would be a useful spur to na. and Brazil have been threatened with legal – sub-contracting of hazardous asbestos maintenance action by the asbestos industry. he only avoided conviction when the highest court threw the case out on a legal technicality In the new century. This record includes [3. – exporting banned asbestos products. injury compensation have pried loose a vast number of Global corporations can play a constructive role internal documents from the asbestos companies. according to the health. pending a ruling from the Italian of asbestos that accounted for 95 % of world asbestos use constitutional court. Companies including menacing business practices. though there may occasionally be – settlement of damage suits on condition that the some ownership by foreign companies from asbestos. These where their corporate standards are superior to what corporate documents reveal a veritable encyclopedia of may be locally required of them. asbestos hazards men who stayed in or got in when the multinational cor. – publication of statements and reports by trade ering the price of safer substitutes while supporting associations that asbestos products are not toxic the case for banning asbestos in the country. The history unearthed has Unilever. in the 20th century and the only type of asbestos in . – manipulation of published reports tional companies to do likewise. Unilever and other global cor.

13:5–14. govern- Organization recommends governments treat the to. ments for widely-banned. Governments should not feel obliged to put up with endless lobbying. The export of hazardous factories to developing nations. industry that just won’t go away quietly: asbestos. their commu. The asbestos industry should accordingly be corporations do for clearly identifiable corporate treated by governments the way the World Health subsidiaries. p. 28. government officials. References 1. the industry is placing on bilities by publicly disclosing the identities of their the shoulders of individuals. sentatives. This disclosure vention and compensation. increase transparency and disclosure of business con- nections between the giant corporations and their affili- Treating the asbestos industry like the tobacco industry ates. If disaster occurs. and in addition to the Corporate leaders need to own up to their responsi- human tragedy it is creating. . world is still largely a responsibility of the global corpo. and increasingly so Aspen. 3. particularly close relations with asbestos interests have repeatedly in Asian countries. other countries. with international trade agreements enabling these gi. 2005. suppliers. hazardous substances in inter. Environmental Cancer. pp. of worker and environmental protection – just as the ments. Castleman BI. WHO asbestos companies in the states of Brazil where asbestos recommends that governments “should interact with the has not yet been banned. fiber-cement in 1999. Castleman BI. Int J Conclusion Health Services. corporations were the customers for the products the The asbestos industry is making profits from selling deadly plants were making. similar limitations should knowledge that. Governments with with the expansion of hazardous industries. ants to increase their presence in markets worldwide. Castleman BI. asbestos businesses tobacco industry only when and to the extent strictly started in the past century by foreign corporations have necessary to enable them to effectively regulate the been taken over by local entrepreneurs in India and many tobacco industry and tobacco products” [22]. remuneration from any party during that entire time. Int J Health The subcontracting of hazardous work has gone global. mediated through links with is made out of an abundance of caution. Printing Ofc. 5th ed. of all types of asbestos” [23]. delaying tactics and arguments about Competing interests “controlled use” of the killer dust. particularly when tragedies occur. and Saint-Gobain’s irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco interests and Brazilian subsidiary faces stiff competition from national public health policy interests. 5. “the most efficient be followed by governments making policy decisions on way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use asbestos in interacting with the asbestos industry’s repre. and exporting a deadly product. universities. in particular. it takes an investigation even to determine which foreign national trade.9:569–606. Govern. mortality and contaminated environ. this constitutes a conflict of interest of any kind. The author has investigated the general subject of this article for over 40 years with very little medical institutions. Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects. Transactions Bulletin No. and accepting the responsibility nities and their governments the enormous economic for assuring that suppliers follow the highest standards costs of ill health. But when the global companies got ples including Principle 1: “There is a fundamental and out. untouched by regulation and liability. media. not because the author feels that politicians. doctors. ments. and international bodies can take measures to bacco industry. 1955. Hueper WC. 1979. The last bacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control global asbestos company was the French Saint-Gobain. 21]. 50–3. as the WHO puts it. Similarly. the courts. 4. Washington: US Govt. ments should interact with the asbestos industry only to the extent necessary to ban new asbestos product use as Received: 25 August 2015 Accepted: 10 January 2016 quickly as possible and to provide protective measures for dealing with asbestos products already in place. No very survival depends on minimizing the expense of pre. 1949. Convention’s prior-informed-consent warning require. The double standard in industrial hazards. Pittsburgh: Industrial Hygiene Foundation. This is an industry whose The author testifies in civil cases brought by asbestos victims against various corporations. their families. 166–167. Hazardous and polluting industries blocked including chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam operate in collapsing buildings with no safety provisions. hazardous recognizes the “need to be alert to any efforts by the to. financial support for this writing was received from any party. efforts” and to take action “to protect (tobacco control) which decided to sell its Brazilian asbestos mine and policies from commercial or other vested interests of the convert its asbestos-cement plant there to non-asbestos tobacco industry”[22]. New York: rations that dominate world trade.Castleman Environmental Health (2016) 15:8 Page 5 of 6 international trade since then [20. Services. The export of hazardous industries to the developing 2. and unionists. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control One industry stands out as a discredited. 1983. on the public health and corporate history of asbestos. National governments need to overcome Because of the asbestos industry’s parallel history of the obstruction of the asbestos industry and act on the subverting public health policy. Non-governmental organizations.” To implement this. This is based on guiding princi. others were there to take over.

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