Unilever was recently called out in a video put together by the activist campaigning group Jhatkaa, highlighting the issue of mercury poisoning and environment pollution caused by a former factory set up in Kodaikanal, a hilly town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Dutch-based FMCG company Unilever, set up in India as a subsidiary under the name Hindustan Unilever is the name behind popular consumer products like Lifebouy soap, Fair and lovely, Sunsilk, Ariel, and a whole host of others.
The main grouses of the activist group, according to their campaign website, against the FMCG giant are:
- Malarkodi was exposed to mercury poisoning, along with a thousand others at Unilever’s Kodaikanal thermometer assembly plant. The factory operators did not give its workers any protective equipment or information about the disastrous impact that mercury has on health.
- 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.
- The workers cannot afford private healthcare. They have been fighting for Unilever to clean up the toxic contamination and compensate them for their medical expenses as a result of mercury for many long years. They need us to stand with them now, more than ever.
The group put together a creative video, featuring Chennai-based wrapper Sophie Ashraf, set on the tone of Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda, the lyrics talk about Unilever posing an environment threat and lives at stake with their polluting ways and invokes them to “clean up their mess.” According to Jhatkaa, the video “takes an undisguised jab at Unilever for its failure to clean up mercury contamination or compensate workers affected by its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal.”
The video has received close to 2mn views in less than a week, and Unilever for sure has noticed. The PR and crisis management teams at Unilever have jumped into action and its twitter feeds are suddenly full of tweets portraying the company as a consumer-caring, environment-saving one.
Safety is our number one priority. Extensive studies found no harm to workers or environment in Kodaikanal. Facts: http://t.co/QaKjYlpsUN
— Unilever (@Unilever) August 4, 2015
The company has reponded on its official company page by posting a detailed document. The document mainly refutes most of the allegations against it in the video with detailed stats and reports. It talks about the necessary approvals the company has taken to safeguard the environment and carrying out all its manufacturing activties within the ambit of environment laws.
The document also lists out all the measures the company claims to have undertaken since closing down the factory, to clean up the effluents and scrap left by it.
The company also denies the allegation that workers’ health has been affected by the dangerous levels of mercury present in the premises.
[scribd id=273711014 key=key-XMtP8hE33Fu536JZF4eR mode=scroll]
This is a video by a few ex-workers of the company, claiming quite otherwise.
Whether Unilever’s counter claims to its allegations are enough to satisfy the workers who have been wronged by the company is a matter of speculation, kudos to Jhatkaa for bringing an oft-ignored issue to the public limelight with their creative ways.