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Eliminating toxic chemicals globally

Working to ensure that by 2020 all consumer products are free of hazardous chemicals


Countries: International
Donors: Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM), The Netherlands
Partners: AWHHE, EcoAccord, MAMA-86 Harkiev, WEN
Issues: Chemicals & Health, Gender & Rights
Duration: 01/2006 - 12/2008

Chemical contamination is a global problem because substances produced anywhere in the world can travel very long distances via air, rivers, oceans and migrating wildlife. The transboundary nature of this problem is asking for international solutions and common and effective standards everywhere in the world.

As women, we are differently affected by hazardous chemicals. This does not only concern women’s health in general, but also women’s reproductive health and the healthy development of future generations.

In 2006, we published the first international brochure written by women for women, on hazardous chemicals in our daily environment. “Women and their toxic world” examines how women’s lives and that of future generations are threatened by hazardous chemicals, why strong chemicals policies are needed to end this threat and what women can do to protect themselves and future generations.

Experience has shown, once women take leadership and their specific needs are addressed, more effective decisions that are more widely supported by society are taken. Likewise women’s leadership is crucial in order to promote sustainable chemicals management and eliminate hazardous chemicals.

For the first time, WECF was present at the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society (the female version of the World Economic Forum) where solutions to global problems ranging from achieving gender balance in the workforce and corporate processes to eradicating poverty and protecting the environment are discussed.

Trusting what we consume: Are we truly managing the interface of technology, health and safty?

Changing and implementing international chemicals policy

Aware of the need for global action on hazardous chemicals, the governments of the world agreed in Johannesburg at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 to ensure that chemicals are produced and used in ways that make sure their negative health and environment effects can be kept to a minimum.

In order to achieve this goal, any chemicals policy must have these chemicals policy principles at heart:

  • the precautionary principle
  • the substitution principle
  • the polluter-pays principle
  • the public’s right to know

WECF is working on international chemicals policy instruments and processes, which are primarily led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Some of the political fora we are involved with, as well as our policy contributions are described below.

Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)

At the moment SAICM provides the only comprehensive framework for chemicals management of all applications of chemicals. It was drawn up with the intention to make available a global mechanism that would ensure countries meet the above referred 2020 goal.

The framework was adopted by the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) in Dubai in 2006. SAICM is based on the precautionary principle and promotes the substitution of hazardous chemicals.

Unfortunately, SAICM falls short of its promises, especially because it is not legally binding. This means that governments are not legally obliged to put the arrangements of SAICM into practice. On the other hand, the WSSD 2020 chemicals minimization target is generally approached as a binding mechanism by the international community and indirectly provides a legal framework for action in this context.

Policy corner:

WECF is participating in the regional implementation meetings of the EU-JUSSCANNZ (Japan, US, Switzerland, CAN, Norway, NZ) group.

WECF policy interventions:

Other policy mechanisms promoting the elimination of chemicals policy

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

This treaty represents, a milestone in chemicals policy, targets the phase-out of POPs, a group of hazardous chemicals that poses an imminent threat to human health and the environment. At the moment twelve POPs, including many pesticides and unintentional POPs by-products, like Dioxin, are covered by the convention.

The treaty also allows for the inclusion of new POPs with the goal of their substitution by safer alternatives. At the moment governments are discussing the inclusion of brominated flame retardant PBDE and perfluorinated chemicals (also known under their brand name “Teflon”).

One of the other key issues considered by the Stockholm Convention is the safe disposal of obsolete pesticides, most of which are currently stored in ways that continue to pollute environment and human health. WECF member Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment (AWHHE) published a case study in 2006 (link to pdf AWHHE publication-should be in the WECF online database already) about the investigation and awareness raising of a local pesticide stockpile.

In November 2007, AWHHE organized a chemicals safety conference involving a large group of stakeholders, discussing chemicals management in Armenia and the safe destruction of obsolete pesticides in particular.


Reducing children’s exposure to hazardous chemicals is a key concern for WECF. Therefore, we are supporting the WHO Children’s Environment and Health Action Plan (CEHAPE). In June 2007 governments who have signed on to CEHAPE met to discuss progress in implementing among others, measures to reduce hazardous chemicals in children’s environment. Because little progress has been made so far, WECF put together these policy recommendations.

Environment for Europe

In October 2007 in Belgrade, Serbia, women’s representative and environmental campaigners called, among others, for stringent chemicals policy measures to eliminate hazardous chemicals now (link to Belgrade declaration).

Previous campaigns

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