by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) March 9, 2016
The Indian arm of global consumer giant Unilever Wednesday said it had reached a a deal with hundreds of former employees to end a long-running dispute over allegations of mercury poisoning at one of its manufacturing plants.
Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) was forced to shut its thermometer factory in 2001 after Tamil Nadu state authorities found the company was contaminating the environment by dumping tonnes of toxic waste.
The company said it signed the settlement agreement with a workers association, representing 591 ex-employees and their families from the now defunct factory.
"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 executive director legal and corporate affairs Dev Bajpai said in a statement.
The company has agreed to provide an undisclosed ex-gratia payment as part of the deal, the statement said.
The company said the association had agreed to withdraw a 10-year-old petition from Madras High Court after reaching the settlement.
AFP could not reach the workers' union for comment, which alleges 45 employees and 18 children died due to the toxic effects, a claim denied by the company.
The union had demanded compensation, saying many victims are still suffering from renal, brain and neurological disorders.
HUL moved the thermometer plant from New York to India in 1984 over environmental concerns before it was shut following the discovery of a 7.4 ton stockpile of crushed glass thermometers laced with mercury in 2001.
Last year environmental activists launched a global campaign to force Unilever to clean the toxic waste from the site close to a wildlife sanctuary.
Nityanand Jayaraman, one of the activists engaged in the decade-long campaign said they are relieved with the decision but their fight is not over yet.
"We are celebrating but we will make sure that Unilever cleans the area of the toxic waste," Jayaraman told AFP.
Kodaikanal Won't!, a rap song about the crisis by a 27-year-old Indian activist Sofia Ashraf to the tune of Nicki Minaj's Anaconda, went viral with more than three million views on Youtube and support from Minaj.
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