Hindustan Unilever Limited on Wednesday announced that it has reached a full and final settlement to provide undisclosed voluntary payments to 591 former employees who were exposed to toxic mercury vapour at its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal more than a decade ago. The association that represented the former employees had said that the exposure to the toxic vapour during their employment led to loss of life and health effects such as miscarriages, kidney and nervous system damages, and mental disability in children, reported The Hindu.
The employees had moved the Madras High Court in 2006, five years after the company had first announced a final settlement in 2001, reported the Economic Times. HUL had then conducted meetings with its former employees and representative unions to decide on a final settlement on 10 occasions since 2014, before eventually arriving at this latest deal. Ponds Hindustan Lever Limited Ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association’s counsel R Vaigai said they had not sought compensation, but asked the government to make sure that HUL pays for economic rehabilitation and healthcare for the former workers and other victims of mercury poisoning at the factory.
The thermometer factory was shut in 2001 by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board following allegations of toxic mercury being dumped in Kodaikanal. A central government committee found that around 45 people had died and over 600 were exposed to toxic vapours during the 19 years that the factory had operated. In 2015, a video by Chennai-born rapper Sofia Ashraf taking a jab at HUL for its failure to clean up the mercury contamination in Kodaikanal went viral on social media, and brought the issue back to the fore.