Library / 26 June 2008
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Speech of Mr. Jim Puckett (Basel Action Network)
World Forum on Waste Management for
Human Health and Livelihood

Basel Convention 9th Conference of the Parties,
Nusa Dua, Bali. 26 June 2008


Good afternoon distinguished delegates, honorable ministers and special guests. It is an honor to address you on this occasion in this beautiful country of Indonesia and amazing Island of Bali.

I am one of those few remaining relics who have attended every Conference of the Parties including the Conference of Plenipotentiaries of 1989 in Basel when the Convention was adopted.

This then is the tenth Ministerial level meeting of Basel I have attended. And I keep coming back to this forum because I believe deeply in the original intent and wisdom of the Basel Convention including its Basel Ban Amendment decision to erect a reasoned trade barrier to hazardous waste on behalf of human rights, and environmental sustainability in developing countries. It is clear that on so many levels that the Basel Convention with the Ban Amendment on paper stands as a landmark – a seed planted with much potential to bear the kind of fruit needed to address the challenges we face in the age of globalization, and in an era where we are facing for the first time in human history the possibility of global environmental collapse.

I have been enthralled for years by the Convention’s potential and unfortunately appalled in recent years by the inability for its Parties to seize and actualize its promise. And indeed that promise has very much to do with the Millennium Development Goals and the Millennium Declaration that announced these goals. In understated but unmistakable direct words, the Millennium Declaration in the year 2000 said:

"We believe that the central challenge we face today is to ensure that globalisation becomes a positive force for all the world's people. For while globalisation offers great opportunities, at present its benefits are very unevenly shared, while its costs are unevenly distributed. We recognise that developing countries and countries with economies in transition face special difficulties in responding to this central challenge."

"Thus, only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based upon our common humanity in all its diversity, can globalisation be made fully inclusive and equitable. These efforts must include policies and measures, at the global level, which correspond to the needs of developing countries and economies in transition and are formulated and implemented with their effective participation."

I was there in 1989 when the gavel came down to create just such a “policy and measure at global level.” It was called the Basel Convention and it was formulated by the effective participation of developing countries to redress the inequities described in the Millennium Declaration. It was created to prevent environmental costs from being disproportionately externalized to developing countries moving along new pathways of globalization with devastating, exploitive effects. But to the grave disappointment of developing countries, especially the African group, and to NGOs, the Convention that was adopted in 1989 did not prohibit this export of harm. And a Greenpeace banner was hung across the road which read: Basel Convention Legalizes Toxic Terror.

I was there in 1992 at COP1 after the Convention had garnered 20 ratifications and entered into force and developing countries arrived in the old resort town of Piriapolis, Uruguay, to press for the ban they failed to achieve in 1989. UNEP executive director Mostafa Tolba placed a proposal for a full ban on the table, and indeed it was only due to a frantic effort on the part of developed countries including most European countries at that time, that the full ban was not passed. Again a Greenpeace banner was raised on the walls of the old hotel, saying this time: Basel Convention Still Legalizes Toxic Terror.

But I was also there at the next meeting in Geneva in 1994 at COP2, when the G-77 and China again put the proposal on the table for a full no-exceptions toxic waste export ban, and during the course of that historic and hectic week it gained the support of the European Union. And so despite last minute attempts by some OECD nations to weaken the decision, the ban following the threat of a vote was adopted as a consensus decision. This time a very new Greenpeace banner was hung that said: Basel Convention Criminalizes Toxic Terror and developing countries celebrated.

And I was there the very next year at COP3 in 1995 when after certain OECD countries claimed that the 1994 ban decision was not legally binding, the ban had to be adopted all over again, this time as a proposed amendment. Again the ban, this time as an amendment, was adopted by a consensus of the Parties.

It has been 13 years since that day. 13 years later and despite 63 ratifications -- more than 3 times as many as it took to bring the Convention itself into force, the ban has still not entered into force. And we are once again this week facing a game being played by certain very powerful countries that wish to prevent fulfillment of this original promise of the Convention.

And so while the intent here is to expound on the role the Convention has to play in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, we are faced with the ugly truth that the Basel Convention has been unable to even accomplish the basic pre-requisite step of addressing the inequities and exploitation made possible by globalization which the Millennium Development Goals were meant to address. We have not even fulfilled our mandate to end one of the most egregious, immoral form of injustice visited upon developing countries from hazardous waste. We have been unable, in 13 years, to realize a decision adopted twice by consensus, one which the public in every land entirely fully supports and indeed which most of the world believes has already been accomplished.

And during those 13 years we have became painfully aware that this problem of costs and injustice being externalized in the form of exported toxic wastes has not abated. To the contrary in has increased. Just two years ago we experienced the single worst and deadly incident of toxic waste dumping ever experienced with the dumping of the Probo Koala waste in Cote d’Ivoire. And in those 13 years we became aware that toxic post-consumer wastes in the form of old ships and electronic waste, is flooding southern shores. In 1996, the Basel Convention first placed the horrors of obsolete ships dumped on South Asian shores firmly on their agenda for action. Twelve years later little has changed in South Asia and the Basel Convention appears poised to pass competency on this issue to a body without competence on waste management issues; that has drafted a new Convention which, without significant reform will turn back the clock on established principle; and will not achieve an equivalent level of control as that required under the Basel Convention; and worst of all, will not stop a single toxic ship from moving across oceans to disproportionately burden the poorest of the poor with toxic waste. Just this month 4 more laborers died on the shipbreaking beaches in Bangladesh.

In 2002, more than 6 years ago, BAN first brought to the Convention the news of electronic waste exported primarily from the United States, Canada and Japan flooding the Chinese town and region known as Guiyu. That news sent shockwaves around the world.

Three weeks ago I revisited Guiyu, China for the first time after 6 years. To my horror I witnessed that the situation there, rather than showing improvement, had actually gotten far worse. I witnessed that the open burning of electronic components had increased dramatically, acid stripping operations have expanded in capacity and number, the cooking of circuit boards is still carried out by thousands. Workers confided to us how they are beaten if they question authority or complain in anyway. The 65,000 workers there have no rights, no justice and they and their children who work alongside are saturated constantly with a toxic cocktail of dioxins, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The workers told us that this waste still comes primarily from Japan, the US and Canada despite the fact that China has banned its importation.

I ask you all, how can developing countries be expected to meet the Millennium Development goals regarding poverty, infant mortality, hunger, disease, education, and human rights when we continue to allow developed countries to throw salt in these wounds in the form of the manmade toxic horrors sent their way down the greased pathways of globalization?

They cannot, and it is the height of hypocrisy to urge improvement via the grand sounding words such as Environmentally Sound Management, while not understanding that ESM first and foremost must mean bringing into force and implementation, the principles, obligations and decisions of a legally binding Convention – just such an instrument and measure as was called for by the Millennium Declaration.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the illegal and deadly traffic in hazardous waste today is now epidemic and we in this Convention are sitting on our hands. It is time, it is past time, that the Parties and stakeholders to the Convention awaken and remember that it is nobody else’s job other than our own to fulfill the promise of this Convention.

First, Parties must take concrete action to stem the tide of transboundary movements of obsolete ships, electronic wastes, and other hazardous wastes through enforcement of the Convention in conjunction with customs officials at our borders and ports. And, we must communicate to the IMO in no uncertain terms that their Convention so far does not meet the bar of equivalent level of control and we cannot accept a step backwards.

Second, Parties who have not already done so must go home with the unwavering intent to put in place the steps necessary to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment.

But finally we must ensure that this long sought Amendment will enter force at the earliest opportunity and is not rendered worthless by endless postponement. It is utterly immoral to wait any more years while countless more deaths and contamination will be visited upon the developing world while we wait. Those countries that do not believe in the ban should simply not ratify it and thereby not be bound by it. But they should not deny the need and belief of the vast majority. Yet here this week we are hearing that developing countries must be patient and wait another likely 20 years and adopt the so-called hitherto unheard of “current time” approach, which will require 64 more ratifications in addition to the 63 we garnered in 13 years. This is really a death sentence for the amendment and we all know this.

Fortunately the Basel Convention has rules of procedure for making decisions. In the wisdom of the United Nations, those rules state that we always strive for consensus, but if consensus cannot be reached, then a vote must be taken and any country or group of countries can call for such a vote. It is clear that the vast majority of Parties wish the Ban Amendment to be in effect today if not years ago. A vote for the method that achieves the most rapid entry into force will be a vote for finally achieving the basic pre-requisite step for this Convention and its vital role in delivering not only its own mandate but that also of the Millennium Development Goals, to address head-on, the toxic inequity of globalization.

At the close of our film The Digital Dump, Professor Osibanjo of the Basel Convention regional Center in Nigeria, a man who has seen it all from Koko beach in 1987 to the dumping of electronic wastes in the markets of Lagos today, reminds us that toxic wastes should never go from developed to developing countries and warned that without implementation the Convention will be but a paper tiger.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if that is indeed the end result of this Convention which holds so much promise, we will have lost much more than the Basel Ban, more than the Convention itself, we would lose more indeed than the credibility of UNEP, the entire United Nations, and the prospect of global governance. We would have lost much hope for bettering this world. For we in this Convention will have lost our way. My colleagues, it is time, it is past time, to fulfill, the promise of the Basel Convention.

Thank You.
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