Bengaluru, Mar 11: On March 9, former mercury workers of Kodaikanal, who have been fighting a 15-year-old battle against Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), were in a celebratory mood.
Finally, the company has agreed to a settlement with the workers who have suffered mercury poisoning.
"The settlement between HUL and 591 former mercury workers from its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal is an unprecedented victory and a fitting culmination of the 15-year-old campaign by workers and the hundreds of thousands of supporters worldwide," said campaign organisations, The Other Media, Chennai Solidarity Group and Jhatkaa.org.
"According to activists, it is public outrage, not corporate responsibility that prompted HUL to do what it had refused to do for the last 15 years.
Millions of people shared the viral music video Kodaikanal Won't, and more than 150,000 people in over 100 countries petitioned and tweeted to hold Unilever CEO Paul Polman accountable," said a press release, issued on behalf of all those who have been campaigning for the justice for the workers of Kodaikanal.
The long and arduous struggle of the workers and activists got a major fillip in 2015 when singer-rapper Sofia Ashraf came up with her now viral music video, Kodaikanal Won't.
The catchy song, asking HUL to clean-up its mess (mercury contaminated site in Kodaikanal), helped the struggle become a global campaign to fight for the justice for the poor workers.
However, the struggle is not yet over.
"The much-delayed settlement is a great news, but Unilever still has unfinished business in Kodaikanal. You can expect a high-decibel global campaign in the coming months to ensure that Unilever cleans up its mercury contaminated site in Kodaikanal on the lines of international standards," said Nityanand Jayaraman, a Chennai-based writer and activist, who has been part of the campaign since 2001.
"Unilever is insisting on leaving up to 25 milligrams/kg of mercury in soil - 250 times higher than naturally occurring background levels - even after clean-up. According to activists, that is far laxer than global standards and will harm the environment. The factory is located on a ridge surrounded by the densely forested Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary," said the press release.