Back in 2015, rapper Sofia Ashraf’s protest music video Kodaikanal Won’t put the spotlight on mercury contamination at a Unilever plant in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. The next year, the company agreed to a settlement with almost 600 former workers who had been exposed to toxic mercury vapour at the now-closed thermometer factory.
It’s been a couple of years since then, but Kodaikanal Still Won’t. Ashraf is back with a sequel (video above), accompanied by Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna and indie rock musician Amrit Rao to belt out a catchy number that fuses Carnatic, rap and Tamil Gaana Kuthu genres.
The music video aims to bring attention to a petition filed by Chennai-based activists targeting Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman. The petition claims that Unilever’s failed trial remediation of the environment in November 2017 ended up mobilising more mercury into the environment that it recovered, because it deployed a substandard process. The activists allege that 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 in the Netherlands.
“Such a shoddy clean-up will never be permitted in Europe,” said Chennai-based social activist Nityanand Jayaraman in a press release. “Unilever’s refusal to apply the best standards for India reeks of environmental racism.”
According to the press release, “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.”
Ashraf, Krishna and the director of the video Rathindran R Prasad plan to travel to the Netherlands and UK later this year to collaborate with musicians there to bring attention to the company’s actions.