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China must fulfil repeated pledges on chemical safety: expert

GENEVA (29 March 2019) - A UN human rights expert has called on China to live up to its promises to implement effective measures to combat the hazards and risks in its fast growing chemical industry, following another deadly explosion at an industrial plant.

At least 78 people were killed and hundreds injured in the blast at the Chenjiagang Industrial Park in Yancheng city, on China's east coast, on 21 March 2019.

“As home to the world’s largest chemical industry, China must have world-class measures to protect human rights from the grave threats of its chemical industry,” said the Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics, Baskut Tuncak.

“It is saddening, but not surprising, that intermittent efforts since the 2015 explosions in Tianjin have not sufficed.” More than 160 people were killed and over 700 injured in the 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in Tianjin*.

“The victims of these repeated chemical disasters deserve action,” Tuncak said.  “Chemical disasters are preventable.”  

China is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chemicals, including industrial chemicals and pesticides. By 2030, chemical sales (excluding pharmaceuticals) in China are forecast to account for nearly half of the world’s global chemical sales, which as a whole are projected to double.

“China’s repeated promises on chemical safety must be followed by meaningful action and lasting measures if it is to meet its human rights obligations,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“China’s Central Government has the ultimate duty to protect the human rights of its population, including workers and children, from the phenomenal threats created by its runaway chemical industry. China must ensure that its workers are not exploited by toxic exposures, and its children are able to realise their right to the highest attainable standard of health and maximum development.”

In April 2019, a critical meeting to decide a future framework for chemicals and waste management beyond 2020 will take place. “Upcoming global negotiations provide China with the opportunity to both inspire and elevate standards globally,” Tuncak said. “Emerging economies need strong global standards to help them effectively manage the risks of chemical intensification, and to ensure their workers and communities are not exploited as wealthier countries ban toxic chemical production and use. No one knows this better than China.” 


(*) The Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes communicated his serious concerns about the chemical disaster in Tianjin in August 2015 (Ref. CHN 9/2015). 

Mr. Baskut Tuncak is Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms Lilit Nikoghosyan (+41 22 917 9936 / lnikoghosyan@ohchr.org) or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact  Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

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