Unilever promises to clear up toxic mess
Earlier last week campaign group 38 Degrees asked members to contact Unilever over the fact that thousands of workers had been poisoned by mercury from working at its Kodaikanal thermometer assembly plant in India.
The factory, owned by Hindustan Unilever, also dumped toxic mercury around the plant, and this has not been cleaned up in the 14 years since this plant was shut down. The contamination continues to impact forests and groundwater.
Following thousands of people messaging Unilever has now promised to clean up its mess.
38 Degrees said "it's great news, particularly for campaigners in India who've been trying to get the attention of Unilever for 14 years. It shows what can happen when enough of us come together - when we use our power as customers of big companies to right serious wrongs."
However it was not all good news. Unilever did not make any promises to compensate the workers which have suffered from mercury poisoning or their families. Accordng to 38 Degrees, more than 45 workers exposed to mercury during their employment are dead and at least 18 children, born to workers of the Unilever unit, have died so far.
A spokesperson from Unilever said in a statement:
“We would never allow our employees to suffer ill-health because of their employment with us and not address it.
Several independent studies, carried out by experts on mercury-related health complaints, concluded that our former employees were not harmed by working in our factory in Kodaikanal. Contrary to other claims, there is no authoritative medical data from any report showing that our operations at Kodaikanal caused illness.
The sale of glass scrap containing mercury residue to a scrap dealer about three kilometres away from the factory was in breach of our company rules. We immediately addressed it, including removing both the glass and the underlying soil.
Independent expert studies showed that there was no adverse impact on the environment in Kodaikanal, except in some areas of the factory premises. We are keen to continue work on clearing up the factory site. We have submitted a Detailed Project Report for soil remediation to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and will commence the preparatory work immediately.
We have been striving to resolve these issues for over fourteen years, and remain determined to do so.
This is a longstanding issue and we believe it is in the interest of all parties for it to be resolved. We believe the sooner this happens, the better. We urge all to come to the table to agree on an outcome.”
38 Degrees is asking members to contact Unilever to demand it pays compensation to their workers.
38 Degrees online action
Kodai Mercury factsheet