Unilever’s Mercury Fever

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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