The gas leak that killed thousands in Bhopal 18 years ago was the worst industrial disaster in history and a poignant reminder that multinational companies must not dump their dirty technologies on developing countries. Although Bhopal is the worst case, it is not the only one in India.
Fences at Hindustan Lever Limited keep public scrutiny out but they haven't kept mercury waste in.
The Greenpeace Thousand Bhopals Jatha is a bus tour travelling
to 25 toxic hotspots throughout India. The Thousand Bhopals tour
represents thousands of ordinary people and communities whose
voices are never heard. These people continue to be unjustly
exposed to unsafe toxic substances and corporate environmental
"crimes" with consequent health affects, sometimes even leading to
This is the case in Chennai on the south-east coast of India
where workers at the Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) mercury
thermometer factory died after exposure to mercury.
A subsidiary of Unilever, the HLL factory was shut down by the
provincial pollution control board in March 2001 after Greenpeace
and local groups exposed its illegal dumping of mercury waste with
recycling merchants in Kodaikanal and elsewhere in the
The Indian People's Tribunal held a public hearing in September
and released its Interim Report noting the lack of transparency in
HLL's declarations to the statutory bodies as well as its false
declarations on the amount of mercury used, stored or illegally
sold offsite. The Tribunal also stated HLL defied a specific order
from the Pollution Control Board to undertake no activity at the
plant. Instead HLL dug out the foundations of the manufacturing
unit and recovered large amounts of mercury.
Two activists determined that HLL not forget its obligation to
the community chained themselves to the entrance of the factory
during the Thousands Bhopals stop in Chennai. They were joined by
ex-workers and widows of former workers who died after mercury
exposure demanding that HLL release their health records in keeping
with the Pollution Control Board commitments.
The Indian People's Tribunal has drawn the government's
attention to the hazard posed by the disposal of over four tonnes
of mercury throughout the south of India, against the company's
earlier claim that 416 kg had been dispersed to recycling
"This is a classic case of lack of corporate accountability by a
multinational. Such practices would never be allowed anywhere else
in the world. HLL is responsible for damage beyond national
jurisdiction," said Ananthapadmanabhan, Executive Director,
Greenpeace India. "Their liability must include responsibility for
environmental cleanup and restoration."
The Tribunal also noted that the company under-reported by 10
tonnes, the amount of mercury used and presumed lost to the
environment. The report states that: 'In this regard it would be
remiss of the panel to refrain from noting that the manner in which
information has been presented, the contradictions in the
statements and subsequent re-workings of the mercury balance,
indicate a concerted attempt to misrepresent with false
declarations the true facts in the matter.'