Nicki Minaj-inspired song gives voice to Indians protesting Unilever actions

When one of the world’s largest corporations is accused of polluting a city in your country, a protest song may be a powerful weapon. If you’re thinking about Neil Young and his Monsanto-bashing new album, you are wrong. The country is India. The artist is Sofia Ashraf. And the song, “Kodaikanal Won’t,” is a riff on Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.”

The song calls out Unilever – owner of of Knorr, Ben and Jerry’s and Dove – saying it poisoned workers at a thermometer factory at Kodaikanal, India. It closed the factory back in 2001 amid pressure from Greenpeace and local groups over the sale of scrap glass containing mercury, to a nearby company. The Dutch-based company admits that it made a mistake, but disagrees that mercury contaminated nearby water and poisoned people working in the factor.

Ashraf and other campaigners disagree.

“Unilever dumped toxic mercury in the Kodaikanal, poisoning its workers and the forest,” reads the video, posted by Indian campaigners Jhatkaa. “In the past 14 years, Unilever has done nothing to clean up the contamination and compensate its workers and their families, despite talking a bit game about corporate social responsibility.”

Ashraf uses rap, to the tune of a popular song, to tell the story of alleged crimes committed by Unilever. The video has more than 900,000 views in less than a week and is poised to crack 1 million soon. It is not the first time that Ashraf has called out a major corporation. In 2008, Ashraf was featured in the song “Don’t work for Dow,” a protest song for the 1984 Bhpopal chemical spill.

At the end of the new video, viewers are urged to sign a petition addressed to Unilever CEO Paul Polman urging the corporation to clean up the mess and provide compensation for affected families. The petition and video are a part of a new campaign to address the problem.

“The workers cannot afford private health care. 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,” according to the Jhatkaa website.

Pictures posted under the #UnileverPollutes hashtag on twitter show community members and campaigners demonstrating against Unilever. It challenges a corporation that prides itself in making social responsibility a part of its core work, not just a side project.

“We are developing new business practices that grow both our company and communities, meeting people’s desire for more sustainable products and creating a brighter future,” according to Unilever’s sustainable living section of its website.

The campaigners against the mercury contamination in Kodaikanal want Unilever to live up to its own principles.

“Kodaikanal won’t step down until you make amends now,” raps Ashraf

Information from The New York Times was included in this report. 

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.