E-mail from Paul Polman on concerns in Kodaikanal

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Polman, Paul <Paul.Polman@unilever.com>
Date: Wed, Aug 19, 2015 at 2:30 AM
Subject: Re: Kodaikanal
To: Eurig Scandrett <eurig.scandrett@gmail.com>
Cc: Richard Dixon <rdixon@foe-scotland.org.uk>

Dear Dr.Scandrett, dear Eurig,

Thanks for your letter of 14th August about the claims surrounding our closed factory at Kodaikanal in southern India. I’m glad of the opportunity to set the record straight and provide some facts to puncture the extensive misinformation surrounding this matter.

You may not be aware that, when we closed the factory in 2001, as a result of breaches of policy on resale of waste glass from the thermometer manufacture, we took three actions. First, we traced all the waste glass to a scrap merchant some 3kms away. Following an independent study of the environmental impact, we arranged for the waste to be safely removed and disposed of. Second, we offered each employee a job at another factory; and when they declined to move we provided double the level of redundancy payment required by the Indian authorities. And third, we commissioned an independent study of the risks of any health impact on our former employees.

This and three other studies have all yielded the same result – there is no evidence of any health impact. Without going into detail, the essential requirement for an effective diagnosis of mercury poisoning is comparing clinical data from regular health tests during employment with subsequent symptoms which are well understood and recognized. The WHO requires those working with mercury to have tests, including urine tests, once every six to twelve months. We conducted those tests every month. This level of thoroughness provided a very reliable base for subsequent tests and diagnosis, hence the high level of confidence in the findings that no employee had suffered from our activities.

Despite this, when a group of former employees submitted a petition to the Madras High Court five years later asking for financial and health support, we agreed to act as proposed by the Court; to seek an out of court settlement on humanitarian grounds. This has been a complex and slow process, but we continue to pursue a fair settlement, with ten meetings last year, continuing this year, and one just last week and another planned very soon. We are optimistic that we are now close to settling. But I would like to underline that there are no circumstances under which Unilever would allow our employees, current or former, to suffer ill health from working with us and not address it.

On the claims of environmental damage – the same level of misinformation exists and makes lurid headlines. The facts however are that no significant levels of increased mercury exist in the nearby Kodaikanal lake, the fish or the local flora. The half life of mercury is just 60 days so any raised levels would need to have been identified in 2001, not 2015. Again we commissioned a detailed study into potential environmental damage by independent experts who found no worrying levels of leakage or damage.

There are three areas on the former factory site that need remediation. After instructions from the relevant local authority, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, we started clean-up work on our closed factory premises nearly ten years ago. Local NGO’s then intervened and raised a challenge to the clean-up standard. The TNPCBfroze the clean up to review the challenge and the correct standard for clean-up. As a result several years have passed when we have not been able to progress this.

There has recently been movement on this, and the TNPCB has asked us for details of how we will tackle the clean up. As soon as this is approved we will start work. We hope this will be very soon. You refer to ‘international standards’ – I would like to make it clear that the standard is set by TNPCB not Unilever, and that there is no single standard either in India or any other country, but we expect them to set it at a high standard.

There is far more detail available on our website. The link to this information is here: https://www.unilever.com/news/news-and-features/2015/update-on-Kodaikanal-India.html.  I would encourage you to read it and share it with your members. You may also be interested in a blog by Sir Jonathon Porritt about the gap between truth and fiction on this issue. Here is the link: http://www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/unilever-and-kodaikanal-truth-and-fiction

In summary; we regret how long this has dragged on and remain determined to do our part to achieve a solution to both the financial settlement and site clean-up as swiftly as possible, but much of the pace is dictated by others.  I hope you will share this information with your members of offer both clarity and reassurance.

Happy to talk more if needed.

Warm regards. Paul