Unilever's Mercury Fever

| October 18, 2001

Unilever's Mercury Fever

'In March 2001, residents of Kodaikanal, a pretty hill retreat in Southern India, caught the Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever red-handed when they uncovered a dumpsite with toxic mercury-laced waste from a thermometer factory run by Unilever's Indian subsidiary Hindustan Lever,' writes Nityanand Jayaraman for the watchdog group Corpwatch.

Now community leaders in Southern India and Greenpeace India discover the truth about the multinational company's environmental record after Unilever tried to cover up the scandal. In a scrap yard, 7.4 tons of mercury-containing glass was found in ripped bags. Even with the visible evidence, the export marketing manager for Hindustan Lever denied charges of indiscriminate dumping.

The owner of the nearby scrap yard said, 'I went to pick up scrap from the factory, and they [Unilever] said I would get the other scrap only if I took the broken thermometers, [and,] nobody told me it was illegal or that mercury is dangerous.'

The closest Unilever came to accepting its own role was in a company statement that said the toxic waste 'had been inadvertently removed from the factory in breach of established procedures.' Then, responding to pressure from the community and the weight of the evidence, Jayaraman writes, Unilever announced on June 21 that it would close the factory. Even though the company still denies that it dumped toxic wastes unlawfully, it has been forced to clean up 5.3 tons of mercury-containing scrap.

Read the rest of the article and see Corpwatch's timeline of inconsistencies.
--Sara V. Buckwitz
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