By Aishwarya Nag Choudhury
It’s been four days since the Nicky Minaj inspired rap video by Chennai-based Sophia Ashraf went viral that Unilever was pressurized to take the issue into notice. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) responded by releasing a report on its website which claims that their ex-employees were not affected by the use of mercury in its factory. “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.”
HUL cited experts in their press release stating that toxic contamination has not affected their workers. In response to this Nityanand Jayaraman, a member of the Chennai solidarity group for the Ponds institution Hindustan Unilever Ex-workers Association said that HUL has debugged the study and refers to the report as “Dubious Science to protect its Health.”
He brings into context a point which the HUL report conveniently overlooks. Jayaraman says that the report fails to mention a Government of India report that was submitted to the Madras High Court.
The report claims that in the medical check-ups conducted during 4-6 October 2011 during the field visit of the committee, doctors had claimed that typical symptoms of mercury poisoning were found among workers.
HUL has agreed to a settlement with the workers and said that “all parties around the table to agree on an outcome.” To this Jayaraman says that the victims are open to conversation. However, he quoted a ballpark amount of 1000 crores as what he calls ‘honorary compensation.’ He clarifies his demand by pointing out that the amount in question was 2% of Unilever’s annual budget on advertising. “If they were to offer it tomorrow the matter will be resolved,” he added.
HUL has claimed that it will clean up mercury contamination in Kodaikanal. “We have taken action to clean up the premises – now waiting for consent from local authorities,” said the report by HUL in regard to the question of contamination.
As the agitation of the people in Kodaikanal shows signs of success – it is only left to see how far Unilever delivers its promises. Are they really as they claim “responsible to their workers and the environment,” or is this another hoax of empty hope given to the people to pacify them? The struggle against exploitation of nature and the due compensation of its workers continue – “Kodaikanal won’t stop until you make amends, now!”