NGO raises voice against HUL for dumping mercury in Kodaikanal
New Delhi: A Chennai-based woman rapper has taken on Anglo-Dutch packaged consumer goods maker Unilever and its chief executive officer (CEO) Paul Polman with a video set to the beat of the Nicki Minaj hit Anaconda and posted on YouTube and social media sites.
The video featuring Sofia Ashraf, an advertising professional, is part of a campaign by a non-governmental organization called Jhatkaa, which has accused Unilever’s local arm of dumping mercury at the site of a thermometer plant in Kodaikanal that it shut down 14 years ago.
Jhatkaa, which loosely translates as ‘shake up’, alleges that Unilever had harmed the health of its former employees and local workers.
“Kodaikanal won’t step down until you make amends now... Prolonged exposure got many men killed / There’s children born being seriously ill”—Ashraf sings in the video.
The rap video, which was released on YouTube and other social media sites on 30 July, has already recorded 600,000 views on YouTube, turning Ashraf into a minor celebrity.
Ashraf has done something similar in the past. She made a rap video targeting Dow Chemicals that went “Don’t work for Dow,” protesting the company’s stand disowning responsibility for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster.
The disaster was caused by the leak of a lethal gas from a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide Corp., which was bought by Dow Chemicals 17 years later.
In an e-mail response, a spokesperson for Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), said: “The safety of all our employees is our number one priority. We have acted in a transparent and responsible manner since the issue first arose in 2001, when we immediately closed the factory on our own and launched an investigation.”
Greenpeace first raised the issue in 2001, along with local environment activists, who alleged that tonnes of mercury-contaminated glass was being sold as scrap.
Jhatkaa wants the government to force the company to clean up the mercury-contaminated factory site and surroundings to protect the watershed forests of Pambar Shola, according to the organization’s website. It demands that the company pay for “long-term environmental monitoring for mercury build-up in food chains in the forests and aquatic ecosystems in and around the factory”.
“We have been rigorous in establishing the facts and several independent expert studies have concluded that there was no adverse impact on the health of our people at Kodaikanal,” the HUL spokesperson said. “We have also taken action to ensure the clean-up of soil within the factory premises. There is still work to do here—which we are committed to fulfilling—as soon as a decision on the level of remediation required is taken by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and consent is given by them to start soil remediation.”
“This is an issue which we continue to take very seriously and we have been engaging with our former workers’ representatives to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution. This is a long-standing case and we would like to see it resolved for all involved,” added the HUL spokesperson.