If it wasn’t for ex-advertising professional Sofia Ashraf’s rendition of ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’, a peppy rap song, the world would have hardly known about the issue plaguing the hill station and former workers of a plant located there.
Ashraf had released her video, set to the tune of singer Nicki Minaj’s hit Anaconda, on July 30 last year, breaking the internet in the process. The video garnered over three million views on Youtube and trended for four consecutive days on twitter and facebook.
While Sofia Ashraf had attempted something similar earlier when she rapped about US major Dow Chemicals and it shirking responsibility for the Bhopal gas tragedy caused by the company it acquired, namely, Union Carbide, the Kodaikanal episode was different.
The Chennai resident, who quit her job with Ogilvy & Mather, an agency that works on Unilever brands, just before release of her video, tied up with Jhatkaa, an NGO that had been fighting for the former workers of Hindustan Unilever’s Kodaikanal plant, which it said had suffered due to the dumping of mercury by the company at the factory site. It also alleged that the dumping had damaged the environment and that there was need for urgent course correction.
Ashraf’s video was part of Jhatkaa’s social media campaign. Following release of the video, Unilever was quick to respond, with none other than company CEO Paul Polman tweeting that he did not accept different standards, treating all humans as same and that he was determined to solve the issue at the earliest.
The settlement with former workers of the Kodaikanal plant comes within eight months of this statement, experts said.
In a communique, Jhatkaa said, “People power works. That’s the key lesson we’re drawing from today’s big announcement. We’ll continue to lift up the hundreds of thousands of voices who have joined this campaign since last July to ensure that Unilever now cleans up its mercury mess in Kodaikanal.”
HUL, on the other hand, has maintained that a detailed project report about soil remediation within the factory site has been submitted to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) in August 2015. It is awaiting consent from TNPCB on the matter.