Tuesday, November 12, 2019

“Kodaikanal Still Won’t”: What Unilever Should Know

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It was in October 2016 when I first saw Sofia Ashraf at the Josh Talks LEAP in Delhi. When Ashraf walked on to the stage in all her purple-haired glory and introduced herself as a rapper and content creator, I wasn’t expecting her to belt out raps about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Hindustan Unilever’s failure to clean up the mercury contamination caused by its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal. I was appalled- this was the first time I got to know about Kodaikanal’s 15- year long struggle against the corporate bigwig Hindustan Unilever. Fifteen years and a campaign video by Ashraf finally led to Unilever compensating 591 families.

What Actually Happened

Around the year 2000, people in Kodaikanal started noticing scrap yards full of broken thermometers near Hindustan Unilever’s factory. Soon it was revealed that the company wasn’t meeting the proper mercury disposal protocols. Workers too reported that a lot of them were suffering from various ailments- turns out, it was actually mercury poisoning. After numerous researches were done, activists already fighting for the cause realized that the extent of the contamination was way more than what they had imagined. Mercury was in the soil, the contamination caused by it posed a threat to the beautiful southern valley’s sensitive ecosystem and even the most popular tourist attraction, the Kodaikanal lake, was found to be contaminated. Soon the factory was shut down but the people of Kodaikanal only had one question- “What about the cleanup and what about the gross exploitation of the workers?”

What about it? Well, Unilever responded just like you would expect a big, powerful corporation to respond. It denied that it had dumped mercury near the factory, absolutely refused the claims of mercury in their factory poisoning their workers and came up with several other cover-ups. It took 15 long years of protests and continuous appeals from NGOs, environmentalists, volunteers and a rap video called ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ for Unilever to finally compensate 591 workers BUT the task of active cleanup of the mercury still left in Kodaikanal wasn’t perfectly taken up by the company- which brings us to what this article is all about.

What Everyone Wants to Happen

Jhatkaa, the same campaigning organization that posted the viral ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ video, posted a new video last week called ‘Kodaikanal Still Won’t’. This time the video features not only Ashraf but T.M Krishna and Amrit Rao as well. The video talks about Unilever’s double standard against the cleanup of mercury in India. The activists accuse Unilever of “environmental racism” and talk about how the company failed to employ the same cleanup standards as it would in Europe. It ends with the activists chanting “Clean-up right, clean the sight. Treat us like we were white“.  Rathindran Prasad, filmmaker and the director of both the videos told Deccan Chronicle, “Though environmental cleanup work was taken up, its intensity was 20 times less than what they are supposed to do. This is what we call ‘environmental racism’ and we protest this and demand the same standard that is applicable in developed countries. The new video is called ‘Kodaikanal Still Won’t’ and aims to bring awareness about the present polluted environment in Kodai. We won’t rest until our demand is met.”

The team has also started a new petition online along with the release of the video and this time, I wanted to waste no time signing it. Ashraf and other activists will be taking this project ahead and possibly out of India to encourage more and more artists and activists to speak up against Unilever. This video might just push the agenda of the campaign even more, just like the last one did because let’s be very honest- this is 2018 and I cannot stomach the idea of these foreign corporate establishments getting away with such violations of human rights and being unfair to the environment- and now that you have almost reached the end of this article, I strongly suggest that you share the video wherever you can to get more people sign the petition. When Kodaikanal won’t up with this environmental racism, why should you?

If you still haven’t signed the petition, you can visit this link http://bit.ly/2tEfT51 or give a missed call on +91 7338730702


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