Artists and social activists in Chennai and Kodaikanal today released “Kodaikanal Still Won’t” — a music video that brands the Anglodutch multinational Unilever’s double standards in cleaning up its mercury contaminated factory site in Kodaikanal as a case of environmental racism. The video featuring rapper Sofia Ashraf of the viral Kodaikanal Won’t fame, also has eminent Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna and Indie rock musician Amrit Rao belting out a catchy number fusing Carnatic, rap and Tamil Gaana Kuthu genres. The video was shot in Kodaikanal and directed by Rathindran R. Prasad (Kodaikanal Won’t and Chennai Poromboke Paadal), with Shreyaas Krishna as Director of Photography. Video will go live at 6.15 p.m. at http:// bit.ly/kodaiwont
The video is meant to be a vehicle for gathering signatures in a petition hosted by Jhatkaa.org targeting Unilever CEO Paul Polman. Jhatkaa has also announced a “Missed Call” campaign that allows people to sign the petition by giving a missed call to +917338730702. Petition is at: http:// bit.ly/cleanupkodai
The relaunch of the campaign was triggered by Unilever’s failed trial remediation in November 2017 that ended up mobilising more mercury into the environment than it recovered. The company’s proposed clean-up will leave behind 20 times more mercury in Kodaikanal’s soil than is considered safe for residential areas in the United Kingdom, and 66 times more than levels considered safe for soil, plant and animal life in the Netherlands.
“Such a shoddy clean-up will never be permitted in Europe. Unilever’s refusal to apply the best standards for India reeks of environmental racism,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, a Chennai-based social activist who has been part of the campaign to hold Unilever accountable since 2000.
“Despite the failed remediation trials, Unilever has managed to get a go-ahead for a full scale clean-up. If that happens, it will be nothing short of a major environmental disaster that will poison the watershed forests of the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary,” he added.
Sofia Ashraf, T.M. Krishna and film-maker Rathindran said they will travel to the Netherlands and United Kingdom later this year, and collaborate with local artists to generate solidarity among Dutch and British citizens against Unilever’s double standards. “Unilever talks up a big talk about caring for the environment. Mr. Polman was declared Champion of the Earth by the UN in 2015. They should walk their talk,” said Krishna.
“Environmental racism” is when environmental harm is disproportionately apportioned to marginalised communities, and when the agencies or parties discriminate by deploying environmentally substandard practices when operating among such communities. The video was launched by Prof. Fatima Babu, a long-standing activist leading the struggle against the pollution from UK-based Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper smelter in Thoothukudi.
In 1983, Chesebrough Pond’s – Unilever’s predecessor – shut down its polluting mercury thermometer factory in Watertown, New York, in response to local environmental concerns and moved the factory to an ecologically sensitive location amidst the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary.
In 2001, Unilever’s mercury thermometer factory was shut down for dumping broken thermometers laced with mercury in a scrapyard in Kodaikanal. It later came to light that workers had suffered health effects and that more than 1.2 tonnes of mercury had been discharged into the forest. It took 15 years of campaigning and Ashraf’s viral rap song to force Unilever to settle with its workers.
For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman – 9444082401; Archanaa Seker: 9840523235.
| Chennai Solidarity Group | Jhatkaa | The Other Media | Tamil Nadu Alliance Against Mercury |