Unionized workers and activists in India capitalized on Quebec's trade mission this week to blast the province for its active role on the global asbestos market.

'It will be remembered as an act of barbarism in the history of industrial development where asbestos was knowingly allowed to be used, and where workers were knowingly subjected to it.'—Gobal Krishna, activist

While Quebec Premier Jean Charest led his 130-person mission through meetings with local business leaders and entrepreneurs, Indian opponents spoke out against the asbestos industry, blaming it for making workers in the subcontinent ill.

It's hypocritical for Quebec to ban the use of chrysotile asbestos at home, while selling it to countries in the developing world, said activist Gobal Krishna.

"It will be remembered as an act of barbarism in the history of industrial development where asbestos was knowingly allowed to be used, and where workers were knowingly subjected to it," Krishna told reporters at the news conference in Mumbai.

Asbestos has been banned by nearly every developed country and a growing number of developing nations, but countries like India still rely on the flame-resistant mineral for construction projects.

mtl-asbestos-1

Unionized workers gathered in Mumbai on Monday to denounce Quebec's asbestos industry. ((CBC))

At least 20 per cent of workers in India are exposed to asbestos on a regular basis, and the building material is responsible for making many Indian workers sick, accused Sanjay Singhvi, secretary general of the Trade Union Centre of India, a labour federation.

Asbestos can't be used safely in India, he said.  

The United Nations says chrysotile asbestos, widely used in building materials, accounted for about 94 per cent of global asbestos production and is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. At least 90,000 people die each year from asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, the UN said.

Singhvi said he was disappointed Charest refused to meet with his organization during the weeklong trade mission.

Charest's office said Quebec promotes the responsible use of asbestos.

Quebec exports to India hit $427M 

Charest arrived in Mumbai on Sunday with 130 Quebecers participating in the trade mission.

mtl-charest-mumbai

Quebec Premier Jean Charest is on a trade mission to India. ((CBC))

The premier said the mission aims to promote Quebec expertise in infrastructure, environmental technologies and telecommunications to the Indian market, which counts more than 1.2 billion people.

Thirteen deals were penned between Quebec and Indian companies on Monday, including an agreement with a Quebec City company specializing in cleaning industrial waste water.

Quebec exported $427 million in goods to India in 2008, including airplanes, paper, asbestos and electronics.

Opposition Parti Québécois members accuse Charest of fleeing to foreign lands in order to avoid political pressure at home, including calls for a public inquiry into the province's dysfunctional construction industry.

Quebec operates two asbestos mines.