The Rotterdam convention on hazardous chemicals and pesticides : a meaningful step towards environmental protection?


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




The export of chemicals that are banned or severely restricted for domestic use in the exporting country for reasons of the environment or health is still a common practice. These double standards have allowed pesticide manufacturers to export hazardous pesticides to developing countries, which have limited capacity to manage them in a safe manner. The consequences are not surprising. It is estimated, for instance, that although the great majority of pesticides are applied in industrialized countries, the majority of poisonings and deaths arising from pesticide use occur in the developing world. In 1998, the Rotterdam Convention was adopted to deal with this and other related problems. The treaty, not yet in force, essentially converted a voluntary system of information exchange and prior informed consent (PIC) into a legally binding procedure. This thesis undertakes a critical evaluation of the Rotterdam Convention. It argues that the treaty is fundamentally flawed, as it does not address some of the essential elements upon which a successful PIC system depends. Furthermore, because it is limited to information exchange and PIC, the convention may well be insufficient to deal with the problems pertaining to hazardous chemicals in an effective manner. In order to substantiate that assertion, the thesis considers the context in which the transfer of hazardous chemicals occurs, and the challenges facing the Rotterdam Convention. It describes the nature of the substances being traded, and explores the pesticides market. It also considers the context in which the North-South transfer of hazardous chemicals develops, and argues that it is primarily an ethical question. As a result, it studies the moral and legal principles that apply to that transfer, and the implications of fully implementing them in the Rotterdam Convention. Then, it undertakes a critical evaluation of the convention's main provisions, considering the voluntary instruments that served as its base. Lastly, it suggests some measures that could be incorporated into the convention for a more successful PIC procedure. However, it warns that a system of PIC may not the most appropriate way of dealing with the problems pertaining to hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

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