Image above: Sofia Ashraf
A Chennai born rapper, Sofia Ashraf took upon herself to take a hard and bold swipe against Unilever for failure to clean up the mercury contamination and to duly compensate its workers who are affected by its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal. In a song set to Nicki Minaj’s rendition of “Anaconda”, the rapper seen clad in both saree and modern attire sends in a strong message to the socially irresponsible organization for failing to do its bid to preserve a safe and healthy atmosphere for its workers.

A brief history
The defunct Unilever thermometer company is said to have dumped toxic mercury wastes in 2001 at a scrapyard where more than 500 people are said to be affected while the death toll thus far stands at 45 people. People, forest and groundwater have been contaminated for the past 14 years by a company that boasts of having done its social responsibility. Its website says a lot of nice things about the corporation such as respecting the law, care for the environment, employee’s welfare and community consideration …. Something the ex-workers have yet to see.

Malarkodi, an ex-worker and victim of mercury exposure
Malarkodi was 18 years old when she joined the then Pond’s India Ltd (now Unilever) as a construction worker to build the factory and later offered employment as a cleaner. Her job was to clean the factory shop floor littered with silver drops (mercury) with a coconut broom and mop. No other PPE provided. Each time she pushes the drops, it would further split into many fragments. Little did she know that this chemical should not be inhaled or touched. 

When Malarkodi gave birth to her first daughter in 1995, the baby came out fully blue in colour and lasted for only half an hour. In her squeaky voice (effects of mercury) she said “we lost her”. She has no sensation on her right side which includes her legs, hand and head but could not afford private hospitals. Meanwhile, her husband has tremors and heart problems. She says that it is not easy making ends meet but is thankful that the other two children are healthy. Until today, at least 18 children had died and dozens more are severely ill.

The devastating effects of Mercury poisoning
Mercury targets the central nervous system affecting the brain, kidneys, harmful to developing fetus and children. It transforms into a lethal form called methyl mercury on land or even waterbodies where it can enter into the foodchain and magnify several million times to the fishes that we consume. According to US Environmental Protection Agency, 1 gram of mercury discharged annually into a 20 acre waterbody is enough to render the fishes in the whole lake as unfit to eat. Exposure to mercury is also known to cause vocal cord paralysis that leads to voice change.

Unilever does social responsibility?
Unilever is a 55 Billion multinational company with products ranging from Lifebuoy, Dove soap, Pepsodent & Close-up toothpaste, Axe deodorant, Lipton, Fair & Lovely, etc. It spends about 8 billion in marketing efforts to brand itself as a responsible, caring and environmental conscious corporation

Image: Ex-workers are rallying in a protest march

Image: Well wishers and supporters joining along with workers in the protest march

Pamphlets were snatched away from shareholders ….
When Hindustan Unilever held the Annual General Meeting with shareholders in their HQ at Mumbai recently, a small group of people staged protest in which they appealed to the shareholders to make the company address the liabilities. During the time the protesters also gave out pamphlets to shareholders detailing on the Unilever’s action that polluted the scrapyard. Unilever authorities however forced the pamphlets out of the shareholders hands before giving them access to the meeting. But, this did not prevent one shareholder from raising a question for which the executives answer was they are “awaiting the Pollution Control Board (PCB) for the report in regards to the level of mercury toxic wastes.”

Does this concern us?
We may not be able to prevent disasters from happening, but we can set things right. Therefore, I urge all readers to PLEASE do your part by helping to sign this petition. It will not take you more than a minute to do so. People have lots of time to spend in whatsapp, facebook and other social media by commenting and liking but hopefully we are not the type of ones that look the other way when it comes to giving a helping hand. We may not be able bring back the lives of the people who are lost due to the effects of this contamination but at least we can make this earth a yet better, safer and healthier place to live in. It would make it more meaningful to the families who have lost their loved ones should Unilever pay the compensation.

Many are taking part in signing the petition, would you?
Will this organization do its part to correct the wrong by paying them the due compensation? I hope they will. My advance thanks goes to all the kind hearted people who would sign this petition. At the time of writing, this petition has already collected 58 532 signatures. Yes, I signed for it and I hope you would too.

 Join in and support the cause along with this nice lady, Sofia Ashraf and many others. When you sign this petition, you are able to lend your voice as support to bring justice to the ex-workers and their families who have been affected by this chemical.

If you share by twitter, please use hashtag #UnileverPollutes
Thank you.

3.  Jhatkaa
6.  Logical Indian – The story of Malarkodi

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