As the rap video released by NGO Jhatkaa.org against Hindustan Unilever over mercury poisoning in Kodaikanal went viral on social media, HUL shared a detailed statement explaining their side of the story. This, however, has not deterred the momentum garnered by the video. The last two days saw views on YouTube reach over 1,869,340.
Read the story here: As Kodaikanal rap video goes viral, HUL breaks silence
In response to our story, Shweta Narayan, Coordinator at Community Environmental Monitoring, shared a detailed rebuttal to HUL’s response. In a factsheet titled “Response to the claims made by HUL on their website”, http://kodaimercury.org posted counter arguments to all the claims made by HUL.
“Calling the clarifications posted by Hindustan Unilever (HUL) on its website a “rehashed” bunkum, activists working in support of ex-mercury workers and Kodaikanal residents have asked the company to offer something that would make people believe they are truly interested in resolving this issue,” said kodaimercury, in a statement.
NGOs have said that Unilever’s dilatory tactics in addressing environmental and worker liabilities is harming the environment and people’s lives. They have called on Unilever to offer an honourable settlement to workers, stop pushing the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to dilute clean-up standards. “Unilever is spending more money to deny the existence of the problem than would be required to address the long-term health care needs of its workers. Video and social media testimonies from workers are testimony to the lingering effects of mercury,” the statement pointed out.
Public mobilization group Jhatkaa.org and the Chennai Solidarity Group said Unilever’s “clarification” reeks of insincerity and is factually wrong on many counts.
When exchange4media reached out to HUL, the company spokesperson stated that “it is pertinent to clarify that this matter is sub judice before the Hon’ble Madras High Court. It will therefore be inappropriate for us to comment on specific aspects of this matter.”
However, they responded to the concerns raised about the issue in the following statement:
• The safety of our employees is our number one priority. We closed down the factory and launched an investigation into this matter after it arose in 2001.
• While extensive studies on the health of our former workers and the Kodaikanal environment have not found any evidence of harm, we continue to take this issue very seriously and it’s one we are keen to see resolved. We have been working hard to find a fair and mutually satisfactory resolution at the suggestion of the Madras High Court and have had more than ten meetings with our former employees’ representatives since 2014. However, achieving this will require all stakeholders – including employee representatives, NGOs and legal representatives – to get behind these efforts and agree on an outcome.
• Several expert studies have been conducted since the factory’s closure and all have concluded that our former employees did not suffer ill-health due to the nature of their work. These include:
A comprehensive medical examination conducted by a panel of doctors
A study by the Certifying Surgeon from the Inspectorate of Factories
A study by Dr P N Viswanathan of the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC)
A study by Dr Tom van Teuenbroek of TNO, directed by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB)
A study by the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC) as directed by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee.
In addition, the findings from our own occupational health monitoring was independently endorsed by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH).
These findings were also confirmed by an expert committee convened by the Madras High Court including representatives from ITRC, AIIMS and NIOH. Its report in 2007 concluded: "The committee failed to find sufficient evidence to link the current clinical condition of the factory workers to the mercury exposure in the factory in the past".
• An expert study has also concluded that there was no adverse impact on the environment in Kodaikanal.
• An environmental and risk assessment undertaken by the independent consultants URS Dames and Moore concluded that that the Kodaikanal lake had not been impacted by mercury.
• We have taken action to clean-up the soil within the factory premises and will commence the soil remediation work at the site once the final consent is given by the TNPCB:
In 2000/2001 we removed 7.4 tonnes of mercury-bearing glass scrap from the site and installed five silt traps to prevent any discharge of soil from the factory into the Pambar valley – the only direction from which water flows out of the site.
Pre-remediation work was started in 2009 but the criteria set by the TNPCB was contested by NGOs, which has delayed these efforts. We are awaiting final consent before re-starting this work.
• We will continue to act in a transparent and responsible manner regarding this matter, and have published more details on the facts about this case on our website: http://www.hul.co.in/Images/Update-on-Erstwhile-Kodaikanal-Factory_tcm114-195572.pdf