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Letter to SAICM Secretariat Expressing Concern about the Joint Int'l. Council of Chemical Assoc. – UNEP Study
IPEN and affiliates have sent a letter to the SAICM Secretariat expressing concern with the joint International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) – UNEP study entitled “Knowledge management and information sharing for the sound management of chemicals.” The study was sent to SAICM stakeholders for comments to “inform the study.” The IPEN comments cover three areas: 1) important issues that are not part of the study; 2) issues that should be included in the study; and 3) concerns over UNEP’s private sector engagement.
Important issues that are not part of the study
While we understand that not every study can incorporate every relevant issue, we think it is important to note some critical SAICM issues that will apparently not be included in the study.
The letter states that the SAICM Secretariat cooperates with the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) to broaden the knowledge and understanding of the number and nature of chemicals in commerce and the availability and quality of environmental, health and safety (EHS) information. However, there are many companies that are not members of associations that belong to ICCA. Excluding them from the proposed study will automatically exclude chemicals they use from the lists of “chemicals in commerce.” This will also exclude companies that have developed safe, non-chemical and/or non-toxic alternatives, skew results, and inhibit the transition toward healthier solutions. A good example is lead in paint, which is strictly regulated in the US, Canada and the European Union, but still poses a threat to the health of people, mainly children, in the majority of developing and transition economies. As noted by WHO, “Only 34% of countries have confirmed that they have legally binding controls on the production, import, sale and use of lead paint.”
The proposed study also excludes information on chemicals that are present at informal markets. Such markets have a huge impact on the economy of developing countries and countries with economies in transition. A large number of products in the markets of developing and transition economies are not adequately labeled or not labeled at all. Most articles have insufficient or even no information on their chemical ingredients. Almost no products include basic information regarding manufacturers or environmental and health impacts throughout the whole life-cycle.
The proposed project scope excludes chemicals that are no longer manufactured or were processed more than ten years ago. This includes, inter alia, commercial octabromodiphenyl ether (OctaBDE ), which was listed in the Stockholm Convention for global elimination in 2009. However, OctaBDE was recently detected in toys available on the market in developing and developed countries, in products made of recycled plastic.   
The proposed project also creates a loophole by saying that “privately held information sources not otherwise accessible for public scrutiny” is out of the scope of the project. The proposed project aims at “collecting and reviewing relevant examples of publicly available information sources,” which leaves behind information claimed as confidential business information (CBI). This will result in minimization of both the number of substances and the information available to the public through use of CBI claims. However, a key chemical safety principle agreed by all SAICM stakeholders and included in the SAICM CiP Programme is that health and safety information about chemicals should not be regarded as CBI. In fact, the right to information is enshrined in international conventions, such as the Aarhus Convention International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights, International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and ILO Convention 170, and crucial to give effect to other rights, such as due process, guarantees to a fair trial and the right to a remedy.,,
An important component of UNEP’s emphasis on addressing pollution is public information on chemicals. This includes information on production, use, and release of industrial chemicals in products and wastes. None of that information would emerge from the current proposed study. The list of environment and health information sources suggested in the project does not include the well-known systems for the exchange of chemicals in products information, including:
- SubsSport Substitution Support Portal http://www.subsport.eu/
- GoodGuide www.goodguide.com
- Design for Environment www2.epa.gov/saferchoice
- BASTA http://www.bastaonline.se/searchpage-en/?lang=en
- GreenScreen Certified for Textile Chemicals http://www.greenscreenchemicals.org/certified
Issues that should be included in the study
To address the concerns highlighted above, the aim of the proposal should include:
- Collect and review relevant examples of information sources, including information sources on chemicals in products at national, regional and global levels, noting that health and safety information about chemicals should not be regarded as confidential and thus should be made publicly available;
- Insure that information is collected from ICCA members as well as non-ICCA member companies to achieve broad coverage of information on “chemicals in commerce”;
- Encourage companies operating in developing countries and countries with economies in transition to provide information on “chemicals in commerce” in these countries;
- Improve the understanding of the number of chemicals in commerce and their health and environment effects, noting that of the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market, only a fraction has been thoroughly evaluated to determine their effects on human health and the environment;
- Review the scope, applicability and accessibility of the information provided by each source;
- Jointly develop methods for ranking the quality of information sources by SAICM stakeholders to avoid endorsement of industry-developed methods;
- Compare, to the extent possible, the availability of information at the launch of SAICM in 2006 with information available today, to show the progress made since SAICM began as well as problems and gaps;
- Provide a better understanding of possible relevant knowledge gaps to inform international discussions on chemicals and waste beyond 2020, including information on the health and environmental effects of chemical mixtures;
- Provide information about companies that have developed safer processes and substances that are not necessarily members of ICCA; and
- Provide incentives for companies to advance processes and substances that adhere to the precautionary principle, transparency, and principles of green chemistry.
The scope of the project should include:
- Chemicals no longer manufactured or processed for more than ten years to avoid their appearance in new products as a result of recycling;
- Privately held information sources not otherwise accessible for public scrutiny to avoid CBI claims and ensure the availability of health and environment information;
- Data sources that are described in languages other than English, including the six UN languages, to ensure the accessibility of information coming from different countries and regions; and
- Information about chemicals in products with the priority focus made on children’s products, cosmetic and cleaning products, and feminine hygienic products, among others.
Concerns over UNEP’s private sector engagement
We are concerned with the UNEP Executive Director’s prioritization of private sector engagement. The agency seems so enamored with the private sector it has even launched a “Private Sector Unit” to speed up corporate partnerships. Guidelines to prevent corporate influence over UN processes were not even included in UNEP’s Report on Private Sector Engagement presented at the 142nd meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives.
The same report notes that the private sector even gets to write its own UNEP sustainability reporting criteria because UNEP hired private sector representatives for this job. The report also notes that “the UN Environment Programme, industry and other stakeholders are joining forces to reduce risks from hazardous chemicals in products by aligning government and corporate goals on chemicals.”  However, UNEP did not say that none of the companies that are members of the Chemicals in Products (CiP) Programme steering committee have endorsed the Programme. In fact, one important outcome of the proposed study would be for all the industry members of the CiP steering group to endorse the UNEP CiP Programme.
Finally, UNEP already has an ongoing partnership with the International Council of Chemical Associations, which resulted in the hiring of a chemical industry lobbyist to be part of the SAICM staff. This and other UNEP private sector engagement activities opens the door to corporate capture of the agency by companies that have a history of harming workers and polluting communities.
Going forward, we request the SAICM Secretariat to publicly post the final version of the Study outline and the selected criteria. We also request the SAICM Secretariat to ensure the participation of non-governmental organizations representing public interest in further consultations on the Study.
Thank you for consideration of our views.
Olga Speranskaya and Pamela Miller, IPEN Co-Chairs
Fernando Bejarano, Red de Acción sobre Plaguicidas y sus Alternativas en México (RAPAM) A.C
Alexandra Caterbow, HEJSupport International
Yuyun Ismawati, BaliFokus, Indonesia
Cecilia Bianco, Taller Ecologista, Argentina
Dilena Pathragoda, Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), Sri Lanka
María Isabel Cárcamo, RAPAL, Uruguay
Ying-Shih Hsieh, Environmental Quality Protection Foundation (EQPF), Taiwan
Abel Arkenbout , NGO ToxicoWatch, The Netherlands
Semia Gharbi, AEEFG, Tunisia
Genon Jensen, HEAL, Belgium
Tadesse Amera, PAN-Ethiopia
Marie Therese Merhej Seif, Human Environmental Association for Development (HEAD), Lebanon
Ibrahima Sory Sylla, ONG Carbone Guinée, Guinea
Gilbert Kuepouo, CREPD, Cameroon
Rye Senjen, Environmental and Human Health Aotearoa, New Zealand
Lydia Astanina, Greenwomen, Kazakhstan
Siddika Sultana, Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), Bangladesh
Hemsing Hurrynag, Development Indian Ocean Network (DION), Mauritius
Marisa Jacott, Fronteras Comunes, A.C., Mexico
Anuradha Gupta, Prithvi Innovations, India
Zuleica Nycz, Toxisphera Environmental Health Assoc. & APROMAC Environment Protection Assoc., Brazil
Satish Sinha, Toxics Link, India
Jan Samanek, Arnika, Czech Republic
Silvani Mng'anya, AGENDA, Tanzania
Emmanuel Odjam-Akumatey, Ecological Restorations, Ghana
Pham Thi Minh Hang, Research Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED), Vietnam
Elena Manvelian, AWHHE, Armenia
Desmond D’Sa, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, South Africa
Penchom Saetang, Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand (EARTH), Thailand
ATM Zakir Hossain, Jagrata Juba Shangha, Bangladesh
Robert Katemburura, Centre for Ecological Governance and Gender Initiatives (CEGGI), Uganda
Olga Tsygulyova, MAMA-86, Ukraine
Gopal Krishna, Toxics Watch, India
Okeyo Benards, Eco Ethics, Kenya
Griffins Ochieng, Centre for Environment Justice and Development, Kenya
Kamese N. Geoffrey, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), Uganda
Christine Durbak, World Information Transfer, Inc., USA
Hemantha Withanage, Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka