Skip to main content

Mercury contamination: Rejoicing victory over Unilver, activists say Kodaikanal cleanup norm "3 times lower"

Anti-mercury contamination campaign by activists in Kodaikanal
Counterview Desk
In a move that has cheered activists fighting against mercury contamination in the southern tip of India, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has been “forced” to agree to provide ex gratia payments to 591 former workers/association members and their families towards livelihood enhancement projects and skill enhancement programmes.
Activists of Jhatkaa.org and Chennai Solidarity Group, who were behind the campaign, which ended in a compromise with the management following a petition in the Madras High Court, said, at least 12 of the 45 dead workers died as a result of kidney failure at young ages because of mercury exposure, "though death certificates refused to identify this as the reason."
In a statement issued following the “victory”, Jhatkaa.org said, “Results of analyses conducted by a Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) laboratory in 2015 of mercury levels in sediment, moss and lichen collected from outside the factory revealed high levels of the toxin indicating that the factory was actively leaching poisons into the environment.”
“Air and water­borne mercury emissions have contaminated large areas of Kodaikanal and the surrounding forest”, it alleged, adding, “Eight months after we launched our viral Kodaikanal Won’t music video and petition, HUL announced that they are going to compensate their ex-workers in Kodaikanal.”
“Though delayed, this compensation will help ex-workers repay past debts, meet medical expenses and finally start rebuilding their lives”, the statement said, adding, “This is a huge victory but we’ve only won half the battle. Now, we need to urge Unilever to clean up the harmful mercury they dumped in Kodaikanal 15 years ago which continues to slowly poison forests , water bodies and people in the area.”
Seeking support for an online petition for this, the statement said, the DEA’s “extensive scientific study suggested the standards to which mercury remediation needs to be done in residential areas — 6.6 mg/kg. This means that for every kilogram of soil, no more than 6.6 mg of mercury can be present in it.”
“Instead, HUL is pushing for a clean up standard of 25 mg/kg -- three times weaker than should be allowed! Why? Because they think they can get away with weak standards in a developing country like India. This cleanup standard is so weak that it wouldn’t even be allowed in the UK, where Unilever’s head office is based”, said Ruchita, a senior activist with Jhatkaa.com.
“Ultimately, the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) will direct the standard of cleanup. However, HUL keeps pushing for a weak cleanup standard so that they can save a bit of money in the process, hence stalling the process for years”, the statement added.
Countering Unilever CEO Polmans’ claim that his is “a responsible and environmentally just company”, the statement said, “As the global head, Polman has influence at all levels of the company. If he comes out in favour of a strong clean up standard, it’s not something that his subsidiary Hindustan Unilever will be able to ignore. And if HUL agrees, then the Pollution Control Board can go ahead and finally give the go-ahead for a high cleanup standard.”
Rachita, said, “This victory belongs to the ex-workers who have been agitating and organising for the past 15 years. This victory belong to the activists on the ground who have been relentless in their support of the ex-workers' demands. Because of our collective actions, we were able to hold a multi-billion dollar corporation accountable. People power won in the end.”
“Though delayed, this compensation will help ex-workers poisoned by mercury repay past debts, meet medical expenses and finally start rebuilding their lives”, she said in an email circulated by her.
She said, “Jhatkaa members continuously tweeted at CEO Polman and bombarded dozens of Unilever Facebook pages demanding immediate action. Thousands even pledged to boycott Unilever products till the time they cleaned up their mess in Kodaikanal. This public scrutiny resulted in HUL accelerating the stalled negotiations with the ex-workers. Our efforts made a real difference in the lives of the hundreds of ex-workers and their families.

Comments

ET Cases said…
Hi,

Very informative article

On a similar matter, you could check a case study available with http://www.etcases.com/society-voice-against-unilever-mercury-contamination-in-kodaikanal.html

Have a great day!

TRENDING

Telangana govt proposes to give unfettered powers to forest officials, 'help' corporates

By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao*
The Telangana Government is contemplating to replace the Telangana Forest Act 1967 with a new law - the Telangana Forest Act (TFA) 2019, trampling the rights of adivasis ensured under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA Act 2006) and Panchayats Extension to Schedule Area (PESA) Act 1996 both of which are central acts.

RSS, Hindu Mahasabha were 'subservient' to British masters: Nagpur varsity VC told

Counterview Desk
Well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam, associate professor (retired), University of Delhi, in an open letter to the vice-chancellor of the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Dr Siddharthavinayaka P Kane, has taken strong exception to the varsity decision to include RSS’ “role” in nation building in the syllabus of the BA (history) course, citing instances to say that the RSS ever since its birth in 1925 with its Hindutva allies like Hindu Mahasabha led by VD Savarkar worked overtime to “betray the glorious anti-colonial freedom struggle”.

It's now official: Developed Gujarat's regular, casual workers earn less than 19 top states

By Rajiv Shah
Though not as low as state chief minister Vijay Rupani claims it to be (0.9%), Gujarat’s unemployment rate, at least as reflected in a recent report released by the Government of India, is 4.8%, lower than the national average, 6%. Yet, ironically, the same report, released soon after the Lok Sabha polls came to an end in May 2019, brings to light an even grimmer reality: Lower wages in "model" and "developed" Gujarat compared to virtually the whole of India, including the so-called Bimaru states.

British companies export 'deadly' asbestos to India, other countries from offshore offices

By Rajiv Shah
“The Sunday Times”, which forms part of the powerful British daily, “The Times”, has raised the alarm that though the “deadly” asbestos is banned in Britain, companies registered in United Kingdom, and operating from other countries, “are involved in shipping it to developing nations”, especially India. India, Brazil, Russia and China account for almost 80% of the asbestos consumed globally every year, it adds.

Amaravati: World Bank refusing to share public grievances on Land Pooling Scheme

By Our Representative
A new report, prepared by the advocacy group Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), New Delhi, has taken strong exception to the World Bank refusing to share its independent assessment of the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS), floated by the Andhra Pradesh government in order to build the new capital.

Beijing-based infrastructure bank 'funding' India's environmentally risky projects

By Our Representative
A new civil society note has questioned the operations of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral development bank that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, seeking to fund projects in India through the Government of India’s National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), calling it “a risky venture”.

Include all workers exposed to silica dust in anti-TB programme: Govt of India told

Counterview Desk
In a letter, sponsored by well-known civil rights organization, Occupational & Environmental Health Network of India and signed by more than 60 professionals and activists*, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has been told that Indian policy makers shouldn't just acknowledge higher TB risk to mine and stone crusher workers, but also “other silica-exposed workers”.

Universal healthcare? India lacks provisions to 'fight' non-communicable diseases

By Moin Qazi*
Universal health coverage (UHC) -- ensuring that all people receive proper and adequate health care without suffering financial hardship -- is an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It enables countries to make the most of their strongest asset: human capital.

Gender budgeting? Govt of India allocates just 2.1%, 0.73% for SC, ST women

By Rajiv Shah
The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), one of the most influential all-India Dalit rights networks, has taken strong exception to the manner in which the Government of India has undermined Gender Responsive Budgeting in the Union Budget 2019-20 for scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), pointing towards “wide gaps” between the goals and the situational reality of “the Dalit and Adivasi women on the ground.”

Polygamy in India "down" in 45 yrs: Muslims' from 5.7 to 2.55%, Hindus' 5.8 to 1.77%, "common" in SCs, STs

By Rajiv Shah
Amidst All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) justifying polygamy, saying it “meets social and moral needs and the provision for it stems from concern and sympathy for women”, facts suggest the the practice is down from 5.7 per cent of Muslim families in 1961 to 2.55 per cent in 2006.