HUL, ex-workers of Kodaikanal factory reach settlement

By: | Published: March 10, 2016 1:23 AM

Ending one-and-half-decade-old legal wrangling, FMCG major Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) has finally agreed for a settlement to provide undisclosed ex-gratia amount to toxic mercury impacted 'victims' who had been employed at its now-defunct thermometer factory at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu.

Ending one-and-half-decade-old legal wrangling, FMCG major Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) has finally agreed for a settlement to provide undisclosed ex-gratia amount to toxic mercury impacted ‘victims’ who had been employed at its now-defunct thermometer factory at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu.

HUL in a statement on Wednesday said that the company has signed an agreement with Pond’s HLL ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association, representing the ex-employees of the thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, for the settlement of the issue.

The agreement was signed on March 4, 2016 in the presence of representatives of former workers and HUL. As part of the agreement, HUL, with an objective to ensure long term well-being of its former workers, has agreed to provide ex gratia payments to 591 former workers or association members and their families towards livelihood enhancement projects and skill enhancement programmes.

The memorandum of settlement reached was recorded in an order passed by Madras High Court.

According to HUL, the settlement has been entered into on humanitarian considerations to put an end to this long standing matter pending in the court for several years and also is in keeping with the suggestion of the high court.

The former workers of the thermometer factory had filed a petition in the Madras High Court in February 2006 seeking economic rehabilitation. They had alleged that they were exposed to toxic mercury vapour during their employment leading to loss of life and exposure to severe health issues.

According to HUL, the petition was filed more than four years after company had made a full and final settlement in November 2001.

Dev Bajpai, executive director – legal and corporate Affairs, HUL said, “We have worked hard over many years to address this and find the right solution for our former workers. We, alongside all involved, are glad to see an outcome to this long-standing case. The well-being of our employees and the communities in which we operate has and will always remain paramount. This agreement demonstrates our commitment to this.”

HUL has been engaging with former workers’ representatives to reach an amicable agreement for several years now, on the advice of the Madras High Court. In the last two years, the company has had multiple meetings with the former workers’ representatives to resolve this issue in a mutually satisfactory manner.

S A Mahindra Babu, the president of the Pond’s HLL ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association, said, “We welcome the actions taken by HUL to bring these negotiations to a satisfactory closure. We are pleased with all the terms of the agreement which will help to ensure the long-term health and well-being of the factory’s former workers. We now consider this issue to be fully resolved and have no more grievance against the company in this regard.”

The former employees have confirmed this as a full and final settlement of all their claims and demands. They will withdraw the petition they had filed in February 2006 in Madras High Court.

HUL’s clinical thermometer factory in Kodiakanal was shut down in 2001 by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board following reports that the company leaked mercury into Pambar Shola Forest Reserve for almost 17 years.

HUL in the release said that several expert studies have been conducted since the factory’s closure and all have concluded that the ex-employees were not harmed by working in the former thermometer factory in Kodaikanal. “Nonetheless, since this issue first came to light HUL has actively sought to address it in a responsible manner,” it said.

According to the company, the other key aspect was the one relates to soil remediation within the factory site.

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