Unilever's Indian business comes under fire
Unilever has attracted widespread criticism after a YouTube video featuring Indian rapper Sofia Ashraf went viral this week.
The rap is set to singer-songwriter Nicki Minaj's song, Anaconda, with the lyrics changed to accuse Unilever of failing to clean up mercury contamination after the closure of its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Chennai, India. Titled Kodaikanal Won't, the clip has been viewed more than 1,7000,000 times after being retweeted by Minaj herself.
The video refers to Hindustan Unilever, a branch of the FMCG group that sells a number of personal care products in the region. The company allegedly left toxic waste in a forest near Kodaikanal following the factory's closure. Ashraf raps: "Unilever came and left devastation as they exposed the land to contamination. The environment is is polluted still. Your clean-up was a sham – there's poison in the air."
The factory in question closed 14 years ago but the campaigners believe that the resulting contamination still impacts groundwater in the region. They are asking Unilever's Chief Executive, Paul Polman, to clean up the contaminated area and compensate those affected for their medical bills. The video links to a petition asking the company to take responsibility for incidents of mercury poisoning in the area and has attracted almost 50,000 signatures so far.
Unilever has since responded to the claims. In a statement shared on Twitter, the company said: "Safety is our number one priority. Extensive studies found no harm to workers or environment in Kodaikanal." It has also previously stated that 7.4 tonnes of mercury was removed from the area following the plant's closure. Madras High Court is still deliberating on a case relating to the factory, where local activists say employees worked without protective equipment and suffered from health problems as a direct consequence.
In 2010 the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) decided to revalidate a request for soil clean-up at the site. Unilever stated it will commence soil remediation work at the factory site once a final decision is taken on the soil clean-up standard and consent is given by the TNPCB.