HUL settles toxic vapour issue with ex-employees

FMCG major HUL Wednesday said it has entered into a settlement with ex-employees who were allegedly exposed to toxic mercury vapour at its former thermometer factory in Kodaikanal.

PTI| Last Updated: Mar 10, 2016, 00:10 AM IST

New Delhi: FMCG major HUL Wednesday said it has entered into a settlement with ex-employees who were allegedly exposed to toxic mercury vapour at its former thermometer factory in Kodaikanal.

The company has signed a settlement with Pond's HLL ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association, representing the former employees thermometer factory, HUL said in a statement.

"The Memorandum of Settlement reached was recorded in an order passed by the Madras High Court. The settlement has been entered into on humanitarian considerations to put an end to this long standing matter pending in the Court for several years and also is in keeping with the suggestion of the high court," HUL said.

This agreement was signed on March 4, 2016 in the presence of representatives of former workers and HUL, it added.

As per the terms and conditions of the agreement, HUL will provide ex gratia payments to 591 former workers and their families towards livelihood enhancement projects and skill enhancement programmes.

The ex workers will also withdraw the petition they had filed in February 2006 before in the High Court.

However, the company has not disclosed the amount on which it has negotiated the settlement.

HUL Executive Director - Legal and Corporate Affairs Dev Bajpai said: "We have worked hard over many years to address this and find the right solution for our former workers. We, alongside all involved, are glad to see an outcome to this long-standing case."

HUL has been engaging with former workers' representatives for several years now, on the advice of the High Court.

In last two years, the company has had several meetings with the representatives to resolve this issue.

Pond's HLL ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association President S A Mahindra Babu 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".

The former workers of the thermometer factory had approached the High Court in February 2006 seeking economic rehabilitation.

It was filed more than four years after HUL had made a full and final settlement in November 2001. 

The groups representing former employees of the factory at Kodaikanal had alleged that the staff members were exposed to toxic mercury vapour there with severe health risks.

They had also sought economic rehabilitation and healthcare schemes for the former employees and other victims and had demanded the costs to be covered by HUL.

In their petitions before courts, the employee groups had also alleged violation of the Factories Act and environmental laws by the company.

The issue had created a huge public uproar, while a viral video on social media last year also highlighted the popular outrage against the alleged mercury contamination at the plant. This had led to Unilever's global CEO Paul Polman saying that he was determined to resolve the issue.