Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) has entered into a settlement with ex-employees who were allegedly exposed to toxic mercury vapour at its former thermometer factory in Kodaikanal.
The company has signed a settlement with Pond’s HLL ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association, representing the former employees thermometer factory, HUL said in a statement. However, the firm has not disclosed the amount on which it has negotiated the settlement. “The Memorandum of Settlement reached was recorded in an order passed by the Madras High Court. 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,” HUL said.
The pact was signed on March 4, 2016 in the presence of representatives of former workers and HUL, it added. As per the terms and conditions of the agreement, HUL will provide ex gratia payments to 591 former workers and their families towards livelihood enhancement projects and skill enhancement programmes. The ex-workers will also withdraw the petition they had filed in February 2006 before in the High Court.
HUL executive director, legal and corporate affairs, Dev Bajpai 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.” HUL has been engaging with former workers’ representatives for several years now, on the advice of the High Court.
The firm has had several meetings with the representatives to resolve this issue in the last two years. Pond’s HLL ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association President S A Mahindra Babu 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”.
The former workers of the thermometer factory had approached the High Court in 2006 seeking economic rehabilitation. It was filed more than four years after HUL had made a full and final settlement in 2001.
According to activists, the factory — a second-hand unit set up in Kodaikanal in the 1980s — was shut down in 2001 after allegations that it had dumped tonnes of toxic mercury wastes in a scrapyard in Kodaikanal, and in a nearby forest. At least 45 workers and more than a dozen of their children died so far, activists claimed last year.