Marmite not Mercury

Today the Marmite Facebook Page and other Unilever facebook pages have been hijacked by bandwagon jumpers come over from Government lobbying pages such as 38 Degrees and posts by certain celebrities.   The issue is regarding an problem that a previous subsidiary branch of Unilever caused 15 years ago – Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) formally known as Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL).  This company ran a thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu State, Southern India on behalf of Unilever Global.

The mercury thermometer factory was set up in Kodaikanal in 1983. In 1987, Pond’s India came into the Unilever fold through the larger corporate acquisition of acquisition of Chesebrough-Pond’s. Pond’s India, and with it the thermometer factory, merged with Hindustan Limited in 1998. (1)

The story that is storming around the internet is that all of what happened within the factory, the contamination of the lands, forests, atmosphere and water in the area is all Unilever’s fault as is the poisoning of the workers in the factory.  However, all it shows me through the article and linked articles are what is quoted, that two thirds of Indian firms are negligent against its workforce, not just in Unilever and there are Indian environmental laws being broken all over the Country, so it’s not a separate Unilever problem, this is a massive countrywide Indian problem.  The government needs to be responsible for what the businesses in their Country are getting up to, and not just sucking up all the rewards.

There has been a legal wrangle over this issue since Unilever closed the factory in 2001 after Greenpeace brought the illegal dumping of Mercury glass waste to Unilever’s notice.  From what I have gathered myself from trawling the internet, Unilever HQ were totally clueless that anything untoward was happening in the factory that was in breach of their guidelines regarding the correct handling and disposal of this mercury contaminated glass.

This summary has been taken from Unilever’s own page –
“Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL)1 did not dump glass waste contaminated with mercury on land behind its factory. Scrap glass containing mercury had been sold to a scrap dealer about three kilometres away from the factory, in breach of our guidelines. HUL immediately closed the factory and launched an investigation.

There were no adverse impacts on the health of employees or the environment. This has been confirmed by many independent studies. There was limited impact on the soil at some spots within the factory premises which required remediation.

With the necessary permits from the US and Indian governments, the recovered glass scrap was sent to the US for recycling in 2003. In 2006, the plant and machinery and materials used in thermometer manufacturing at the site were decontaminated and disposed of as scrap to industrial recyclers.”

Thermometers were a product line that was not core to Unilever but they were a source of export earnings to which the Indian government attached high importance. Given Unilever’s strategic decision to exit non-core product activities, the factory’s long-term future within the company was under review some time before the events described below. A decision to exit the thermometer business had already been made in January 2001.”

Now what’s annoying me about the whole thing, is what has this got to do with Marmite? There is no Mercury or thermometers used or made in Marmite or the Marmite factory, so why not just go on to Unilever’s own page and gripe about this?  There are several copy and pasted posts from dozens of people that don’t even think about what they have posted once they’ve done it and probably never opened a Marmite jar in their lives despite commenting that they have been a Marmite eater since birth.  The people are like sheep (sheeple), they just follow what is written on these campaign pages without doing their own research, like good little boys and girls.  It’s just post after post after post saying exactly the same thing, word for word.  Now how sad is that?  How sad is it that what they believe has happened in India is of so lacklustered important in their lives that they just do exactly what they are told to do, down to the last word.

How insulting to the people of Kodaikanal, these people that “think” they are doing their duty by following “orders” that they can’t even be bothered making up their own posts.  For me being a Marmite lover, reading about this catastrophe in the comments section of the facebook page has just made the disaster to the ecology of that area very unimportant, because that is how I see it coming across from the dozens of people posting on there.

What I want to say to these bandwagon jumping people is – Hands off Marmite!!, and move on to the Unilever Facebook page like the good little lemming that you are, and wonder to yourself how high up the importance scale this problem is when so many other catastrophic things are going on in the world. I am not saying that this is not tragic, but you’ve made it unimportant to me because of how unimportant it is to you.   If you want to make something important and that you believe something terrible has happened, give it a little more time in your lives than just copying and pasting a comment that someone else wrote, on a number of pages and then going on with typical Facebook life and sharing cat memes and videos.

You can read more about this at Unilever’s own page about it, where I believe they are being more than honest.

You can also read about the original Greenpeace webpage about this from 2001.

Unilever do need to step up and make good on this as it has been many years, but at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with Marmite……………period.  Keyboard activists need to remember that the real people who make a difference are passionate about their campaigns, they visit areas that are dangerous and put their lives at risk and are poles apart from the keyboard warriors.

If you really love Marmite, you can keep on enjoying it and be passionate in backing the campaign against Unilever.  At the end of the day, all that will happen if Marmite lose money is that Unilever will drop it like a hot stone and someone else will pick it up instead.  Do you think that creating a stream of unemployed people from the Marmite factory or the PGTips factory is going to rectify the problem in India, then you are sorely mistaken.

To say that Unilever has to step up responsibility and that they should be aware of what their subsidiary companies are doing is like saying a parent should always know what their children are doing for the rest of their lives, even after they have left home.  Unilever only have a 51% share ration in HUL, so why aren’t the other 49% being told to step up to the plate?

Unilever is NOT Marmite, it just happens to own the company.


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