Unilever CEO: Clean up Unilever factory in Kodaikanal and compensate the victims
Because 28 workers died, many are still suffering and hundreds of children have been born with physical and mental health issues.
Read the appeal of Dhanalakshmi Natarajan who lost her husband and son because of Unilever.
I'm a widow at 42. My husband died because he was working with mercury at the Pond's thermometer company (owned by Hindustan Unilever).
He didn't know that mercury was so poisonous. The owners of the Pond's factory never told him.
Over the years of working at the Pond's factory his nails started turning black. Several years later he started getting severe headaches and was later diagnosed with a heart problem. He had to undergo an operation. Even before he could recover from the operation we noticed blood in his urine. They said his kidney's had failed. He died in the hospital.
My son also complained about headaches and blurred vision. His fingernails started to turn black too. Just 8 months ago, he committed suicide.
Over the years I have seen many young workers die unnatural and early deaths. Children born to ex-workers suffer from many health problems and mental illnesses.
If I had known about the mercury I would never have allowed my husband to work there.
What kind of a company would knowingly put people in harm’s way? And why would Unilever do such a thing? It is a rich company. Its shareholders, I am told, get rich returns on their shares. For them, taking care of their ex-workers and the environment should cost nothing.
It has been 11 years now. The toxic wastes and contamination in and around the factory have not been cleaned up. Not a single affected worker has received any help from the Government or the company. I am told that there is a case in the Madras High Court for compensation. But what is the use of the money if it comes after all of us have died and gone?
Our situation is like Bhopal, where people are still waiting for environmental clean-up and rehabilitation. Perhaps, with your help and pressure, the Government of India and the Government of Tamilnadu will do their jobs. Perhaps, with your urging, the company accountable, and deliver justice to us before it is too late.
Demands of ex-workers and Kodai residents:
-- Hindustan Lever should clean up all the mercury from Kodaikanal's environment.
-- Hindustan Lever should provide for compensation to the workers who have been exposed to mercury in the factory and their families who have been contaminated by the mercury carried home from work.
-- Hindustan Lever should provide for long term medical monitoring and health remediation for all the workers and exposed residents of Kodaikanal.
Watch a video called 'Mercury in the mist' http://vimeo.com/33286845
March 7, 2012, is the 11th anniversary of the closure of the Pond's Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever Ltd) mercury thermometer factory in Kodaikanal. On this day, 11 years back, residents and environmentalists from Kodaikanal, Tamilnadu, india, uncovered a massive dump of toxic mercury wastes in a scrapyard in the centre of the hill town. Since then, many shocking things have come to light -- that the Anglodutch multinational had discharged several tons of mercury into the biodiverse Pambar Shola Reserve Forests adjacent to the factory; that about 30 factory workers, including two from the scrapyard, had died young; that many children born to ex-workers are suffering from congenital diseases and are mentally ill; that a case filed by ex-workers for compensation has gone nowhere in the last 5 years; that the factory site and its surroundings are still severely contaminated; and that State and Central Governments are dragging their feet on making the company compensate workers or clean up the environment.
I am painfully aware of the Bhopal Gas Disaster, and the fact that justice remains elusive in Bhopal even now -- 28 years after the event. At the same time, I am not pessimistic. In 2003, the Government of Tamilnadu headed by Dr. Jayalalithaa set a brilliant precedent. It ordered Unilever to clean-up the scrapyard to international standards in the presence of the public, and supervised its export to the US for disposal. This was the first time for India, which usually is at the receiving end of toxic wastes.
Through this letter, I appeal to all of you -- who are incharge of the welfare of labour, the environment and communities -- to fulfill your mandates.
I urge the Secretary, Labour Department, and the Chief Minister, Tamilnadu, to extend their full support to the workers to ensure that they and their families are properly rehabilitated.
I urge the Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, to ensure that environmental remediation of the contaminated factory site and its surroundings are conducted at the expense of the Polluter, and is done in a scientific manner with full public participation and consent.
I hope that Kodaikanal does not become a legacy like Bhopal, and that the beautiful hill town goes back to being known for its beauty, salubrious weather and pleasant people.