You might remember the peppy, viral rap video from 2015, ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ by Chennai-based artist Sofia Ashraf that garnered over four million views on YouTube and brought into sharp focus the mercury contamination of Kodaikanal’s forests, waters and the workers of Unilever’s thermometer plant. Now three years later, the team which produced that successful song has come together again to take forward their fight against Unilever’s blatant disregard to their workers and the environment. Their new video, ‘Kodaikanal Still Won’t’ has been released online which, this time, aims itself towards the multinational’s ‘environmental racism’ against the people of Kodaikanal.
The new song calls out Unilever’s alleged double standards in cleaning up its now-shut thermometer plant which is leaking toxic levels of mercury into the nearby Pambar Shola reserved forest. The video claims that the company applied vastly lower standards of clean-up and sanitization that what it applies internationally to its European sites. According to the press release that accompanied the video:
“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.”
The new video has been conceived by Nityanand Jayaraman and features renowned Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna, Amrit Rao and the feisty rapper from the first video Sophia Ashraf. Apart from drumming up support against the discrimination being perpetrated by Unilever, the campaign is also aiming to press the government to upgrade the environmental standards required of the companies to global levels. Filmmaker Rathindran R. Prasad, who has directed both the videos of the campaign, told The Hindu, “No amount of petitioning has been able to convince Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to adopt a firmer stance and enforce best international standards on Unilever’s clean-up.” As a matter of fact, TNPCB had recommended a safe level of 20mg/kg of mercury in soil which is 20 times more than the safe level recommended in UK, and which has been referenced in the video as well.
It is heartening to see that artists from the country are using their talent and reach to lend innovation and breathe a new life into the protests of local stakeholders against callous multinational companies and complicit governments. After the first video went viral in 2015 and public support poured in, Unilever was forced to draw up a compensatory plan for its 591 former workers of the Kodaikanal plant, but it failed to carry out a satisfactory clean-up of the site.
The Logical Indian hopes that the latest relaunch of the campaign also becomes successful in garnering public support for the cause, and that Unilever conducts a thorough clean-up of the plant and the surrounding forests. It is also important that the Tamil Nadu government upgrades its pollution standards to global benchmarks such that the state doesn’t become a dumping ground for outdated technology and harmful chemicals from developed nations in the future.