23 September, 2015: Barely a week before Unilever CEO Paul Polman is to get UN’s Champion of the Earth Award, the company’s Indian subsidiary has been caught engaging unprotected contract workers to remove carcinogenic asbestos roofing at its controversial Kodaikanal factory site.
Over the last month, Unilever has engaged unprotected workers in hazardous work on two occasions. Last month, it sent workers with only hard hats and blue cotton uniforms to dismantle broken mercury-soaked asbestos roofing with no authorisation from any authority and no oversight from environmental or labour safety regulators. According to company sources who spoke to members of the ex-workers association, this work was carried out after a tree fell and damaged a portion of the factory roof. Since, Kodaikanal workers are now aware of the dangers of mercury, the current work is being carried out by contract workers from outside Tamil Nadu.
Asbestos is a carcinogen that is banned in 56 countries, according to a compilation by the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. http://ibasecretariat.org/alpha_ban_list.php Dismantling and disposal of asbestos is a highly specialised exercise requiring trained personnel, full body suits and special decontamination chambers. Exposure to asbestos dust can cause mesothelioma — a cancer of the mesothelial tissue that covers the internal organs of the body. The photographs below show the care with which asbestos is removed and contained in western countries. The manner in which the sheets
The company was engaged in digging up soil within its factory ostensibly to remove a sewage pipeline running from the bathroom to the Sewage Treatment Plant. Considering that the factory premises, buildings and soil are contaminated with mercury, no such civil works can be carried out without permissions from labour and environmental safety regulators.
The company has no permission to tamper with the contaminated grounds, buildings and machinery. The workers employed to dig and demolish were also working without protection. The exercise was unauthorised and unsupervised.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Inspector of Factories have not come forward to take any action. However, Kodaikanal Municipal Corporation chairman Sridhar acted promptly on an oral complaint and stopped the unauthorised work.
For more information, contact:
K. Raj Mohan: 9865885753
Nityanand Jayaraman: 9444082401
Tamil Nadu Alliance Against Mercury
14/58A, Chellapuram, Observatory Post, Kodaikanal 624103
c/o 92, 3rd Cross, Thiruvalluvar Nagar, Besant Nagar, Chennai 600090