In what can be called a fitting culmination of a 15-year-long campaign against Unilever’s mercury poisoning in Kodaikanal, the global consumer products company on Wednesday announced a welfare compensation for its 591 former workers.
The settlement between Hindustan Unilever and the former workers of its thermometer factory was endorsed by the Madras High Court.
Activist Sofia Thenmozhi Ashraf, whose rap video Kodaikanal won’t drew more than 3.5 million worldwide views online last year, said: “Today, I got the word that Hindustan Unilever has agreed to compensate 591 ex-mercury factory workers.”
“Now, a guilt-ridden mother can actually take care of her mentally-ill son. The families can pay off the debts incurred during the treatment of their now-dead sons,” said the environmental activist in a video posted on her Facebook page.
The Kodaikanal won't rap video, aided by an aggressive social media campaign and a call for a boycott of the company’s products, apparently succeeded to build pressure on the firm to compensate the workers affected by mercury poising.
Dev Bajpai, the legal executive director of Hindustan Unilever, said in a statement: “The well-being of our employees and the communities in which we operate has and will always remain paramount.”
The firm, however, hasn’t disclosed the exact amount of the compensation.
SA Mahindra Babu, the president of 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.”
Though some activists are saying the issue is “fully resolved”, many are of the opinion that “the battle is half-won” till they clean up the toxic mess in the hill town.