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Unilever does it again. In the name of “cleaning up” the mercury contamination in its former thermometer factory, the anglodutch multinational’s Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) has illegally clear-felled more than 425 trees from its mercury-tainted site adjacent to Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary. This reckless action has removed the protective cover offered by the vegetation and exposed the contaminated soil to the elements. While the winds blow the toxic dust into nearby homes, the heavy rains of the highlands are estimated to have washed out more than 100 kg of toxic mercury into the sanctuary, poisoning aquatic food chains in the wilderness area.
Once again, Unilever has displayed a contempt for India’s environment and the safety of its people. In 2001, it was caught for illegally dumping several tonnes of mercury wastes. Several hundred workers were injured due to exposure to mercury in the workplace. In 2016, only after “Kodaikanal Won’t” -- a rap song calling out Unilever -- went viral did the company settle with its workers. But the factory site remains dangerously contaminated. Now Unilever has made bad things worse with its reckless actions of clear-felling the trees and poisoning the sanctuary and nearby homes.
Unilever claims to apply global standards everywhere. Don’t let Unilever get away with double standards in India. Join us in calling out Unilever and urging the state government to hold the multinational accountable.
Sign the petitions to Unilever CEO Alan Jope and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin demanding urgent action to protect the sanctuary and residents, and action against Unilever.
Letter to Mr. Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever
Mr. Alan Jope,
CEO of Unilever
Your subsidiary M/s Hindustan Unilever (HUL) is at it again. In 2001, it was caught for having dumped several tonnes of mercury wastes in a scrapyard in a crowded part of Kodaikanal. Then, after 15 years of denial and delay, and only after the massive campaigning by the environment action groups did the company settle with workers who had become sick due to exposure to mercury in the workplace. Again, In January 2020, Unilever illegally clear-felled 425 fully-grown trees that offered protective vegetative cover to the highly contaminated soil over 4 acres of the factory site. All in the name of remediation.
Removal of the vegetative cover has exposed the contaminated soils to wind and rain. The site, atop a ridge on the Palni Hills, is subject to intense rainfall and winds. Shorn of its protective cover, mercury in soil is washed off with rainwater into the sanctuary, and becomes airborne dust into nearby homes. One estimate by Chennai Solidarity Group finds that at least 100 kg of mercury has been discharged into the sanctuary since January 2020 as a result of the deforestation.
HUL's reckless actions have once again endangered the environment and people's health. From the time that a second-hand factory was moved to Kodaikanal from Watertown, New York, following environmental restrictions there to the dumping of mercury wastes and the current actions of clearfelling forests and discharging mercury into the sanctuary, Unilever's actions have reeked of double standards and environmental discrimination. Its remediation methods and ambitions are far lower than would be allowed in the Netherlands or the United Kingdom where it is headquartered.
Your company’s reckless actions make it meaningless to ask Unilever to commit to a world class clean-up. The scale of damage is irreparable. For the damage Unilever has done to the ecosystem in and around the forest, we are writing to you to do the following.
1. Protect nearby residents against any further exposure, including by cleaning their homes of toxic dust, and compensate them for any future ailments as a result of exposure.
2. Take action against those in HUL responsible for the crimes against India's wildlife and for exposing nearby residents to mercury
3. Appoint a responsible person from the Unilever's headquarters to oversee all future actions relating to remediation
4. Declare that you will stop "influencing" pliant regulators like Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board.
Letter to Mr. M.K Stalin, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu
Mr. M.K Stalin
Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu
Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) has recently cut down over 425 trees adjacent to Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary, without any relevant permission. An estimate by the Chennai Solidarity Group finds that more than 100 kg of toxic mercury may have been discharged into the adjacent Pambar Shola forest segment of Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary as a result.
Sir, the mercury may have already poisoned the aquatic food chain inside the Pambar Shola, one of the most biodiverse forests within the Palni Hills. The vegetation that was cleared offers three layers of protection during heavy rainfall to the mercury contaminated soil. The removal of vegetation has also exposed the contaminated soil to strong winds causing toxic dust to become airborne and invade homes. Local residents have been complaining of increased health distress since the trees were removed.
What is worse is that agencies like The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department continue to ‘cooperate’ with HUL despite the illegality inherent in the act of felling the trees.
This is not the first time Unilever has shown a scant disregard for Indian laws and the environment in Kodaikanal. In 2001, it was caught for having dumped several tonnes of mercury wastes in a scrapyard in a crowded part of Kodaikanal causing mercury poisoning to thousands of workers. With massive campaigning, we were able to hold them accountable in 2016.
Sir, it’s time we take strict actions against HUL for endangering the environment and people's health. We, the citizens, are writing to you to take action on the following demands.
1. Take urgent measures to protect the nearby community from mercury-laden dust, and the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary from mercury pollution through rainwater runoff before the onset of the northeast monsoon in October.
2. Impose a stiff penalty on HUL, and direct it to compensate nearby residents who have borne the brunt of dust pollution post-clear felling.
3. Prosecute the occupier of the factory and directors of Hindustan Unilever for endangering human health and the integrity of the sanctuary with their reckless actions.
4. Re-constitute the Scientific Experts Committee with experts with expertise and integrity to oversee mitigatory actions, and suggest a fresh course of action for remediation
5. Take action against TNPCB and Forest Department officials who failed to safeguard the neighbouring residents and the sanctuary.