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article imageRapper Sofia Ashraf leads anti-Unilever protest

By Tim Sandle     Aug 14, 2015 in Environment
Unilever is being urged compensate the workers struggling to rebuild their lives from an alleged toxic mercury spill. Meanwhile, rapper Sofia Ashraf has released a song to bring attention to the campaign.
Unilever is being criticized by environmental groups over an alleged mercury poisoning of former workers in a town in Tamil Nadu, India. The incident happened back in 2001, and locals are continuing with their claim that parts of the town were contaminated by mercury from a thermometer factory. The campaign has received a recent publicity boost.
The incident concerns factory at Kodaikanal, which was owned by Hindustan Unilever. The factory produced thermometers for the U.S. and European markets from mercury imported from the U.S. When the factory closed (due to pressure from environmental groups), mercury waste was possibly not handled correctly and locals claim it polluted their environment and led to some people becoming poisoned from the toxic metal.
According to Ethical Consumer:
The factory operators did not give its workers any protective equipment or information about the disastrous impact that mercury has on health.
More than 45 workers exposed to mercury during their employment are dead.
And at least 18 children, born to workers of the unit, have died so far and more than 30 are severely affected.
The factory, owned by Hindustan Unilever, also dumped toxic mercury around their plant, and this has not been cleaned up in the 14 years since this plant was shut down. The contamination continues to impact forests and groundwater.
These facts are not supported by Unilever.
A boost to the long-running dispute has come from two sources. The first is a petition by campaign group 38 degrees; the second is a song that has proved to be an Internet hit. To help to push the issue forwards, 38 degrees began a social media campaign, simply titled "Unilever - clean up your mess."
To help raise publicity about the issue, rap artist Sofia Ashraf has released a track titled Kodaikanal Won’t. The poppy number has attracted almost 3 million views on YouTube. The song is named after a tourist resort located in the hills of Tamil Nadu state. Ashraf was discovered working at an advertising agency by an environmental campaigner called Nityanand Jayaraman. The idea for the song, which is a parody of the Nicki Minaj song Anaconda, came out of a meeting between the two.
According to The Guardian, the huge success of the video has led to Unilever, through their global head Paul Polman, to take to Twitter to explain the company's position. In the tweet the executive stated the company is “determined to solve” the environmental problems at Kodaikanal.
More about Unilever, Mercury, India
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