The Basel Convention was intended to prevent developing countries from being used as a dumping ground for the world’s toxic waste, a phenomenon often described as ‘toxic colonialism’. However, as the Abidjan disaster in 2006 demonstrated, the Convention is failing to prevent industrialised countries from exporting their hazardous waste to developing countries which lack the capacity to safely dispose of it.
Whilst environmental NGOs, the European Union and many developing nations continue to advocate a blanket ban on trade in hazardous waste, this is a misguided response which has proved difficult to enforce.
The Basel Convention contains the basic procedural mechanisms and institutional structures within which international trade of hazardous waste can be based. However, some key institutional reforms and far greater financial resources are urgently required if it is to adequately safeguard the world’s poor in the international trade of hazardous waste. These reforms need to be based on a recognition that the Prior Informed Consent procedure is inadequate in the context of north-south hazardous waste trade, where competition for crucial foreign revenue puts pressure on the governments of developing countries to consent to imports of waste that they do not have the capacity to manage without incurring potentially disastrous harm to human health and the environment.