Remember Sir Mix-A-Lot’s famous 1992 song with the very catchy words and surprisingly racy lyrics (for Indian standards) called Baby Got Back (the lyrics went something like this- “I like big butts and I can not lie…”) and its recent reprisal in Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda? But, I bet you haven’t heard the last of it yet. Sofia Ashraf, a young Chennai artist has released her own take on the song, and her aim is much bigger than expressing her sexual check list and preferences; she is aiming to fight and shame the corporate giant Hindustan Unilever to perform its much waited clean up after it contaminated Kodaikanal. The lyrics cleverly use Hindustan Unilever product names as puns to make a jibe at the company.
Watch the video here:
The video, aptly titled, Kodaikanal Won’t (because Kodiakanal won’t step down until you make amends now!) is a message to HUL to clean up the toxic mercury waste it dumped behind its factory that has contaminated the area and to provide compensation to the former workers of the factory whose health has been seriously compromised following the work at the factory. HUL had been disposing its toxic waste behind the factory without following the proper protocols required. Several men have lost their lives because of mercury poisoning they contracted at the factory.
In 2001, HUL was forced to shut down its mercury thermometer production factory in Kodaikanal after the world learnt of its unethical dumping and the environmental and health problems their activities had caused. This case is considered as one of the most well documented toxic poisoning cases in the world.
After its closure, a 2004 Department of Atomic Energy report found that the mercury level in the atmosphere was a thousand times higher than the normal level. The workers of the factory had been complaining of several heath problems including kidney related health issues even before the factory was shut down. It is believed that the company did not inform the workers of the hazardous effects of mercury and did not apply correct safety measures either. The company still refuses to accept that its contamination has caused the heath problems of its former workers. Surprisingly, in 2007, a Madras High Court appointed committee did not find enough evidence to link the workers health problems to HUL’s factory contamination. To the relief of the former workers, a Ministry of Labour and Employment report found that there was enough prima facie evidence to suggest that not only the workers, but their children too have been affected by mercury poisoning. The Madras High Court is yet to give a final decision in relation to the matter.
Today Kodaikanal, fondly called the ‘princess of hill stations’, is still suffering from mercury poisoning. The level of mercury in the sediment, lake, fishes and the vegetation is still high. The nearby lakes and forests are already contaminated. Its former workers continue to suffer from miscarriages, nervous tremors and hearing problems amongst others. Protestors and public interest groups feel that the remediation being carried out by HUL is unsatisfactory and that they have been let off easily. On top of that HUL has done nothing to relief the suffering of its former employees.
The Corporate Responsibility webpage of Hindustan Unilever claims “Corporate Responsibility is integral to our vision: To earn the love and respect of India by making a real difference to every Indian…”
In today’s age, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of every company has increased and they are increasingly being judged by their CSR activities. Unilever is carving out an ugly podium for itself by not owning up to its mistake, which has resulted in the death of over 45 people and has left more than 600 exposed to toxic levels of mercury. It will be a shame, especially in the aftermath of Bhopal Gas Tragedy, if Unilever goes by barely unscathed.
The video, released on July 30th, has already acquired more than 8 lakh views on YouTube. Hopefully, with more support from the masses because of the videos popularity, the frustrated former employees and the environment of Kodaikanal will finally get the much-awaited help and the relief it needs and deserves.
Image Source: The Viewspaper