Promoting Asbestos? Canadian Red Cross Board Behavior Raises Red Flags

January 17, 2012; Source: Montreal Gazette | Sometimes, nonprofit boards can be a bit obtuse. In Montreal, former Canadian Red Cross board member Roshi Chadha recently resigned. Chadha is an executive of a subsidiary of Balcorp, and the president of Balcorp is Chadha’s husband. Balcorp has been reviving Quebec’s asbestos industry by exporting asbestos, mined from an open pit in Quebec, to India.

Most readers are aware of the health impacts of asbestos, which include lung cancer and mesothelioma. Not surprisingly, given the health and humanitarian image of the Red Cross in Canada and internationally, health advocates have protested the presence of an asbestos promoter on the Red Cross board.

Prior to her resignation, the Red Cross board stood by Chadha, and the Red Cross’s national director for public affairs and government relations, Pam Aung Thin, defended her as a “valued member” of the organization’s governing body, while saying that Chadha would remain but would not stand for reelection to the board when her term expired in June. The board previously expressed its need for Chadha’s board organization skills.

The board’s display of an organizational tin ear provoked at least one board member, Peter Robinson from the David Suzuki Foundation, to quit. The Montreal Gazette quoted one Red Cross volunteer who said she wouldn’t return to the organization, given that her father died of mesothelioma. Finally, Chadha has decided to resign from the board immediately even though her term still had months to go. 

Explain the Red Cross’s behavior, please. Asbestos is a fully documented danger to people’s health. Balcorp is doing open-pit mining in Quebec, which Americans know is a life- and community-destroying activity from the tragedy of Libby, Mont. Balcorp is exporting the asbestos for use in developing nations, which seems likely to expose the people in those countries to the carcinogenic effect of asbestos fibers. But an asbestos promoter sat on the Red Cross board, which then defended her when challenged by anti-asbestos campaigners? Why would a health/humanitarian organization maintain someone who is associated with promoting a documented health danger on its board? –Rick Cohen