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In March 2001, Unilever's mercury thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, India, was exposed for illegally dumping toxic mercury wastes in a scrapyard adjacent to a school in a sensitive watershed forest behind the factory building. Workers and ex-workers have since expressed outrage at the callousness of Unilever for keeping them in the dark about the toxic nature of mercury -- a substance that was handled casually in the workplace. Subsequent testimonies from workers indicate an appalling scenario of workplace exposure to mercury and mercury vapor, compounded by the lack of appropriate protective gear for the workers.
Unilever's workers have demanded their health records from the company in preparation for an independent assessment of potential health effects from their workplace exposure to mercury. They have also demanded meaningful financial compensation for closure of the factory and a long-term plan for health monitoring and remediation.
The company has ignored both demands. Instead, Unilever has stepped up the harassment of the workers by ordering their relocation to a Unilever factory in Kandla, Gujarat, more than 1000 miles away. Workers, who fail to relocate within the stipulated time are threatened with loss of pay.
Workers recently protested this order by occupying the factory premises for three days. According to their trade union, "This act of mass transfer is nothing but an act of victimization. The transfer orders have been issued close on the heels of the persistent demand of all of us to you to disclose the health records of all the workers, which you admittedly maintained over the years."
Information provided by People's Union for Civil Liberties, Dindigul Unit, (Tamilnadu & Pondicherry), and the Campaign for Labor Rights. For more information on PUCL, visit: www.pucl.org
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